Many of us have trouble falling asleep but for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, sleep can be especially problematic. Falling asleep is often difficult, and so is staying asleep once they finally nod off. Here, we look at the causes, consequences, and solutions for sleep problems in children with ASD.
- Sleep problems are more common in children with ASD than in other children. In fact, while only about 10 to 16 percent of children in the general population have trouble sleeping, the percentage jumps to anywhere between 44 and 86 percent for children with ASD.
- People with ASD tend to have a wide range of sleep problems. They may suffer from insomnia, taking about 11 minutes longer than typical people to fall asleep, and they may also wake up frequently throughout the night. Some people with Autism Spectrum Disorder also have sleep apnea, which causes them to stop breathing at different times throughout the night. Another reason may be due to having less restorative sleep than most people. For individuals with ASD about 15 percent of their sleeping time is spent in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, a time of learning and retaining memories, whereas most neurotypical people spend about 23 percent of their sleeping time in REM.
- Evidence indicates that this lack of sleep can have significant consequences. Too little good sleep may make certain issues worse. Children who lack sleep have more severe repetitive behaviors and more difficulty in making friends than other people on the spectrum. Moreover, they are more likely to score lower on intelligence tests. One study found that children with autism who have sleep difficulties are more hyperactive and easily distracted than those who sleep well. However, it is unclear whether these issues stem from poor sleep, contribute to it or both.
- There are different reasons a person with ASD would have trouble sleeping. Often, they have additional conditions that contribute to the problem of disrupted sleep, including gastrointestinal issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or anxiety. They might also be taking medications that can negatively affect sleep. Additionally, a 2015 study suggests that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are twice as likely as typical people to carry mutations in their genes that govern the sleep-wake cycle.
- Traditional sleep studies aren’t always appropriate for people with ASD. Polysomnography is the most common sleep test, performed in a lab using sensors and wires to track brain waves, eye, and limb movement, and breathing patterns. This kind of study is not always practical for those with ASD, as such a research group has brought equipment into the homes of people with ASD to try and solve the problem. Sleep can also be tracked through actigraphy, which records movements throughout the night using a wristwatch-like device, or researchers can interview families and ask for sleep diaries.
- There are some solutions that may help your child sleep better. Sometimes, it can be as simple as establishing a better, more consistent bedtime routine, or changing the temperature or lighting of the bedroom. Sticking to a regular schedule is also important. The United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved insomnia medications for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but melatonin supplements may be a good option in some cases. This option can be discussed with your doctor. For serious sleep issues like sleep apnea, your doctor might recommend a nighttime breathing device or, rarely, surgery.
If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
Reading to children is a joyful experience and one that sets them up for lifelong learning. One of the best things about books is that we see ourselves reflected in them, and that can be not just informative but also truly delightful, especially for a child. It’s even more important for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder because reading about autistic characters can help them face challenges like relating to others, understanding emotions, and making and keeping friends. The right book may even help a child with ASD find his or her place in the world, offering comfort and understanding. If you love a child with ASD, try some of the books on this list and see if you can find the perfect match.
- All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, by Kathy Hoopmann: This book offers fun photographs of cats and kittens, along with a humorous look at the ups and downs of raising a child with ASD. Drawing parallels between children with ASD and household cats, the book touches on things like sensitive hearing, picky eating habits, and a dislike of being touched. This book is best for ages 7 and up.
- All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism, by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer: Written for children ages 5-8, this book is about Zane the zebra, who develops an understanding of his ASD and how it actually makes him special.
- Andy and His Yellow Frisbee, by Mary Thompson: Directed at readers age 5-8, this book is about a boy named Andy, his protective older sister Rosie, and Rosie’s explanation of ASD to a new girl at school.
- The Asperger Children’s Toolkit, by Francis Musgrave: This book for ages 6-12 is directed at children with ASD, focuses on positive behavior, and is written in easy to understand language
- The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-so-obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome, by Jennifer Cook O’Toole: A must for older kids with ASD, ages 10-17, this bestselling book written by an author with Asperger Syndrome raising three children with Asperger’s, offers illustrations and humor along with easy-to-understand explanations of important social rules.
- Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer Elder: Written for kids 8-12, this book tells of historical figures who were probably on the autism spectrum, including Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Lewis Carroll, Andy Warhol, and more.
- Autism Is…? By Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan: This book, written for children ages 5-8, offers easy-to-understand, child-friendly answers, as a child named Logan hears his grandmother’s explanation of the facts about ASD. It’s part of a series aimed at young children on the spectrum, which includes books like, “Feelings Are…?” and “Danger Is…?” as well as a range of other topics.
- Tacos Anyone? / ¿Alguien quiere tacos” by Marvie Ellis: Children aged 4-7, along with their parents and siblings, will appreciate this bilingual book about a boy trying to relate to his younger brother, who has ASD.
- The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (and Their Parents) by Elizabeth Verdick and Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.: Directed at adolescents age 8 and up, this guide offers straightforward answers to questions and problems kids with ASD might have.
- How to Be Human: Diary of an Autistic Girl, by Florida Frenz: Written by a teenager with ASD, this memoir is both powerful and informative. Aimed at kids ages 7-12, it’s often used in classrooms.
If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website.
Swimming is an important skill for every child, but for children with ASD, it’s especially crucial. Water can hold a special fascination for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and this can be dangerous when a child is also prone to wandering. This makes accidental drowning a very real threat. Reducing the risk of drowning, however, is not only possible but also rewarding. When kids with ASD learn to swim, it can bring them more confidence, joy, and coordination, while strengthening their bodies and lowering their anxiety. Here, we offer some tips for making that happen.
Whether you’re teaching your child on your own or looking for a class, these guidelines are important in teaching a child with ASD:
- Be clear and direct. Don’t use slang, but keep all of your instructions clear and literal. This will ensure that the child understands exactly what to do.
- Stay consistent. When skills are repetitively practiced, it will help your child to learn more easily.
- Proceed slowly. Rather than bouncing from one thing to the next, which can be confusing, take the time to slowly and deliberately introduce changes and transitions.
- Celebrate often. Every triumph is a cause for celebration, even if it’s just touching the tip of the nose to the water. Make a big deal out of each accomplishment, to encourage your child.
- Keep it fun. Children need time to explore the water, under close supervision. Especially if your child is attending many different therapy sessions and doctors’ appointments, swimming lessons can be a welcome and refreshing break from routine.
- Address fears and behaviors. For a child with ASD, swimming lessons need to be about more than just kicking, breathing, and strokes. It’s important to acknowledge fears, helping the child to relax and trust you. Letting the child know you’re in it together is a powerful tool for helping him or her overcome fear and move forward to learn how to swim.
You may be comfortable using this advice to teach your child to swim, or you may want to find an experienced swimming instructor. You can find facilities that offer special needs swim lessons by doing a little bit of research. Look for a swim school that’s a member of the United States Swim School Association, which trains instructors to teach swimmers with special abilities. The National Autism Association’s website has a list of YMCA locations with Special Needs Swimming Instruction, and Safe Splash Swim School has locations across the country, so you are likely to find one near you. You might also find a good swim school for kids with ASD by speaking to an occupational therapist or someone at your local pool. ￼
￼If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
Summer is here, and it’s a great time for fun activities with the kids. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, finding the right fit can sometimes be challenging, but there’s plenty of fun to be had. Check out this list for some great ideas!
- Enjoy a sensory-friendly morning at a museum. The first Sunday of each month, from 9-10 a.m., the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum offers special activities for kids on the spectrum, with a designated quiet space inside the classroom. You can also enjoy quiet times at this museum after 2 p.m. each day. The San Diego Natural History Museum offers ASD mornings, in which little ones can explore the museum an hour early with fewer people, more room, and more sensory-friendly exhibits. This event occurs on the second Sunday of each month, and you’ll need to call ahead and reserve your spot.
- Check out Shane’s Inspiration/Inclusion Matters for playgrounds and fun events. Shane’s Inspiration has created universally accessible playgrounds around the world, with several here in California, built for fun and inclusive play. One fun event they sponsor is My PlayClub, which offers face painting, arts and crafts, and snacks, giving families with children of all abilities a great opportunity to spend a fun morning at the park.
- Zip Zop Zap gives kids with ASD a chance to try improv. With fun opportunities like the Teen Improv and Social Skills group, this organization offers specially designed programs to help kids develop social and emotional skills and connect with each other, in a guided atmosphere. This can help with social goals like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationship skills.
- Ability First offers fun events for families. On July 1st, the organization will debut a new event, AbilityFEST, celebrating diversity and inclusion and featuring activities like an adaptive rock-climbing wall and carnival-inspired games. This event is free and open to the public.
- Sensory-friendly nights at PlayWerx are fun for families. Every second Thursday from 6-8 p.m., kids with ASD and their families can meet, hang out, jump, climb and play. There’s even a snack bar available, as well as tables for parents so they can sit and chat while they watch their kids play.
- The La Mesa Library offers a fun Sensory Playtime with STEAM. Libraries are already a wonderful place to hang out on a hot summer day, but on the first Sunday of each month, La Mesa makes it even better. This tactile event, held at 11 a.m., allows kids to touch, play, engage, and even make noise.
- Engage with horses, with some equine therapy. Interacting with animals is beneficial for kids with ASD, and learning to ride a horse helps them develop balance and hand-eye coordination. In Rancho Santa Fe, check out the Helen Woodward Animal Center, or if you’re in La Mesa, try Partners Therapeutic Horsemanship.
- Make a splash at a monthly Family Pool Party. This free family fun event features a saltwater pool at the perfect temperature, with pizza, drinks, and lifeguards. It’s held the second Friday of the month from 6-8 p.m. by the San Diego Autism Society and Aqua Pros, at the Boys & Girls Club indoor pool.
There are many more fun and sensory-friendly events in the area, from movies to gymnastics to imaginative play to fun in nature, so take the time this summer to look around for opportunities for quality time. If your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, STAR of CA is here to offer support. Founded in 2006, we provide behavioral and psychological services to people with ASD and related disorders in a nurturing environment that offers support for the entire family. We love what we do, and are devoted to improving lives through focused, caring services. You can contact us through our website or by calling 805.588.8896.
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