Getting your nipper to eat their greens or go to bed on time is no easy task for any parent. And for parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), many already tricky endeavours are made even more complicated.
Poor sleep can obviously impact any child’s day. In children with ASD, however, tiredness can exacerbate already pre-existing learning problems and behavioral issues such as hyperactivity and mood swings.
Meanwhile, a failure to eat healthily has a definite knock-on effect on your child’s health, leading to issues with energy levels and immunity.
These considerations make developing healthy habits and routines vitally important. But as children with ASD tend to be more sensitive to external stimuli such as light, noise, taste and texture, amongst a raft of other things, healthy routines can often be harder to achieve. Luckily, it isn’t impossible.
Below we take a look at a few tips to help children with autism develop healthy habits.
- Employ a little color therapy
Now it may have seemed like a fun idea to paint a mural of The Lion King on your child’s wall but having all those animals staring down at him at night is not doing his sleep any favors. The decor of your child’s room, of any child’s room, should be primarily designed to generate a feeling of calm.
Think of their room as dedicated zen palace of sleep. Walls should be colored in muted tones; light blues, greens and yellows are all proven to promote healthy sleep. Bold colors and fanciful designs will lead to overstimulation. Keep it simple, keep it calm and keep them sleeping soundly.
While you’re at it, ensure that all toys and distractions are tidied away come night time. By decluttering what your young one can see at night you’re helping to reduce overstimulation and to promote sleep.
- Tire the little one out
Getting the right amount of exercise is essential in helping your child get to sleep. Nothing will be more helpful in helping Junior nod off than if he’s genuinely tired when his head hits the pillow.
Now, this definitely does not mean letting your kids charge around the garden like headless chickens 5 minutes before bed. Again, this will lead to overstimulation; sleep’s biggest enemy. It does, however, mean making sure your child has a healthy dose of running, jumping or climbing earlier in the day. The actual activity doesn’t really matter, as the simple act of getting a little out of breath is all that is important.
- Power down early
Screens = pre-bedtime screams. Why? Well, your children may look peaceful when curled up on the rug in front of the TV but screens before bed are a big no-no when it comes to healthy sleep. That’s because the blue light emitted by TVs, tablets and smartphones impairs the body’s melatonin production and the interactive nature of technology today leads to overstimulation. And, as we’ve already learned, the last thing a child with ASD needs before bed is overstimulation.
To help your child stay rested and healthy, it’s essential to adjust their schedule and include some pre-bed wind-down time. Power down all screens at least an hour before bed. Even better, dim the lights in your home and switch from overheads to lamps whenever possible. Make the overall home environment as calming as possible in the block of time before your child heads to bed… and they’ll calm down as a result.
This piece of advice is aimed at you too, Mom and Dad! Because screens are the devil when it comes to sleep; no matter your age. If you do have issues sleeping yourself, then head on over to the Sleep Advisor for handy hints, tips and tricks on getting your snooze on.
- Do a comprehensive noise audit
A child’s imagination is an awe-inspiring thing. But this is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand a boring cardboard box can become a castle and provide hours of entertainment. On the other, come bedtime the same source of creativity can turn bumps in the night into ghosts and goblins. And when that happens, nobody’s getting to sleep anytime soon!
Being afraid of nighttime noises is almost universal for children. Children with ASD, however, are even more sensitive to noise than most. What’s more, they won’t always have the right words or ability to communicate what exactly it is that’s keeping them awake. So parents, it’s up to you to be hyper-vigilant yourself, to pre-empt any problems and ideally to take preventive action.
My suggestion is this: do a comprehensive noise audit of your house. Check for creaky floorboards in the corridor outside your little one’s room. Listen out for rumbling pipes and creaking radiators. Do whatever is in your power to minimize these noises.
Follow these tips, keep your little one rested by following these healthy habits…and live happier lives as a result!
This article was written by guest contributing writer, Sarah Cummings.