Autism and Wellness Week 1

As we welcome in April we look forward to longer and warmer days, the blooming of our favorite plants, and the return of baseball. Nestled in there alongside those things is Autism Acceptance Month. There has been a shift of late from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance, and for good reason. As one advocate, who themselves are on the spectrum, shared “Awareness is focused on shortcomings or deficits. Acceptance is focused on what you’re good at and what can you do for yourself. Awareness means you can identify a neurodiversity. Acceptance means you’re able to talk to neurodiverse individuals and gain understanding and compassion.”

So as we move into AAM we wanted to highlight the unique ways in which we can promote wellness in the Autism community, today starting with sleep. Whether you are a member of the Cooper community with an Autism diagnosis or you care for someone with Autism keep in mind that navigating life gets a bit easier when we have good sleep! So here are some thoughts on promoting sleep-related wellness across the Autism Spectrum.

Researchers have extensively researched sleep and its influence on health, behavior and other areas of life for those with Autism. Many kids, teens, and adults with autism have problems sleeping which can be hard on the them and those with whom they live. Some have trouble falling and staying asleep, or wake up too early and have a hard time getting back to sleep.

Problems sleeping happen more often in the setting of the restricted and repetitive behaviors common in ASD, as well as secondary to anxiety, or sensory problems that are often common on the spectrum. Watching TV, videos, or playing on the computer, especially if the shows are very stimulating (highly humorous, intentionally frightening) can lead anyone, especially those living with ASD, to having more trouble sleeping. Fixing this usually starts with gathering data and trying some of the most common solutions related to the problem, whether you are experiencing this yourself or trying to help a loved one.

Sleep Resources

ATN/AIR-P Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Parent Booklet and Quick Tips
This informational booklet is designed to provide parents with strategies to improve sleep in their child affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The suggestions in this tool kit are based on both research and clinical experience of sleep experts.

ATN/AIR-P Sleep Strategies for Teens with Autism
Many teens with autism have difficulty with sleep, which can affect their daytime functioning, as well as that of their families. This tool kit is designed to provide parents with strategies to improve sleep in their teens affected by autism. It helps tackle the problems of falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. 

ATN/AIR-P Melatonin and Sleep Problems: A Guide for Parents
Melatonin is a common medicine your doctor or healthcare provider may suggest to help improve sleep. This tool kit is designed to provide you with information about melatonin and help you decide if trying melatonin is right for you child.

Download a one-page overview on sleep for quick tips you can use at home.

Establishing Good Sleep Hygiene

Carin Lamm, MD is Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Diplomate American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Director Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center Columbia University Medical Center and shares the below regarding sleep and Autism:

  1. Sleep environment: the bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool. As those with ASD might be particularly sensitive to noises and/or have sensory issues, the environment should be adapted to make sure one is as comfortable as possible.
  2. Bedtime routine: the routine should be predictable, relatively short (20 – 30 minutes) and include relaxing activities such as reading or listening to quiet music. Avoid the use of electronics close to bedtime such as TV, computer, video games etc. that can be stimulating making it difficult for individuals to fall asleep.
  3. Sleep\wake schedule: the schedule should be regular with not much of a difference between the weekday and weekend schedule.
  4. Exercise: Daytime exercise can make it easier to fall asleep and those who exercise tend to have deeper sleep. Avoid exercising too close to bedtime as it can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  5. Avoid caffeine particularly close to bedtime, which can be alerting making it difficult for people to fall asleep. Caffeine is found not only in coffee, but also in tea, chocolate and some sodas.
  6. Naps – avoid them at all costs! While a good nap can be needed from time to time, over-reliance on this can perpetuate sleep problems.

It is important to address medical or psychiatric issues that potentially interfere with sleep. Medications might need adjustment if they affect sleep. If one suffers from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, sleep walking, sleep terrors, restless legs syndrome, they may need a referral to a sleep specialist. Some with persistent insomnia will need further behavioral or pharmacological treatment to improve their sleep.

In summary, although sleep problems are common those with ASD they often can be helped. Better sleep for these children can potentially improve their daytime functioning as well as the sleep of family members.