Family members frequently bring up the issue of problems at bedtime with their youngsters diagnosed with autism. “All my kids resist going to bed,” commented one mom. “But my son with autism explodes every evening, and doesn’t calm down until after midnight. Our whole family is suffering.” Other parents mention resistance to bedtime, ranging from explosive outbursts and emotional meltdowns to a stubborn resistance to following directions.
Many children, especially those on the spectrum of autism, thrive on routine. Because bedtime for most families is, at best, a bit chaotic and unpredictable, it is helpful to take some time and purposefully develop a predictable, regular bedtime routine. Consistent bedtime routines may be necessary for the rest of the child’s life, so getting started early is a plus. Although it seems like it is too much trouble, taking time NOW will be a great investment in peace of mind for every member of the family in the long run.
A regular, predictable bedtime routine in three phases can gently ease a child toward bed with less resistance and fewer meltdowns.
Phase 1: TIME TO MAKE CONNECTIONS: Take some time for relaxed, unhurried interaction with your child. Consider turning off the television, sitting close, and making a personal connection, even if your child doesn’t seem to respond. Take time to talk about the past day and what is coming up the next day, even if your youngster is non-verbal, Take time to read, mixing old favorites with new stories and books.
Phase 2: BEDTIME TASKS. Make a custom storybook featuring photographs of your youngster’s regular bedtime routine. For example, you could have pictures of him brushing his teeth, putting on his pj’s, hugging family goodnight, and tucking into bed. As you turn each page of the storybook encourage the child to do the same task, helping him as necessary.
Phase 3: GOOD NIGHT! Read the same short book or story every single night after your youngster is in bed. Turn out the lights at the end of the book. Turn on some tranquil instrumental music. If it is appropriate for your family, take time to pray – both conversational prayer and routine prayers. Quietly remind your child of the schedule for the next day, then hug your buddy goodnight. Leave the music on and ease out the door.
When you first begin this routine, it may seem to take up too much of your time. And the progress toward calm bedtime may be very slow. But many families find it is an investment in time that reaps rich rewards over the years because peace and contentment will reign at bedtime for the entire family instead of frustration, agitation, and emotional meltdowns.
We welcome your concerns about bedtime and your ideas for peaceful bedtime routines. Just click on the comment button or send an e-mail message to talk@FAQautism.com
NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com