Autism and Sleep (or Rather the Lack Thereof) [Guest Post]

I will start by introducing myself and my amazing son Christian. My name is Kristy Speer and I have a son who is diagnosed with both severe autism and severe mental retardation. Christian is nonverbal but very ambulatory, he can see 20/20 and he could probably hear a pin drop; or so my hubby and I like to tease. I have a total of four sons and each one I am especially fond of and find they are very uniquely their own cool little men. We got our diagnosis when Christian was barely two years old. It took lots of tests and more than one doctor to get that lone answer.

At birth he appeared to be fine; he did what tiny babies did. As time passed by he began to simply stop reaching milestones such as speech and social development. I remember coming in from work and he wouldn’t respond until I hunched down beside him and touched his cheek then I got big hugs and wet kisses, but not until then. Time felt like it rushed by and we got so much information maybe even too much information. In the end we put some of the advice with things we found on our own and made our way onward. There were many things we found we had to work hard for like just simply understanding what our son wanted/needed such as food items or toys he couldn’t get to. One particular issue we really had to work for, and I will wholly admit we still have to work for, is a good night’s sleep for Christian.

That is going to be the heart of this blog because of how important sleep is for all of us. Sleep is needed, no doubts about that, but how can you get your child with autism to see it that way? You can’t, at least we couldn’t so we had to think of ways to help our son do something it seemed he wasn’t willing or able to do. This is where combining the information we got with things we found on our own was very useful.

We found our son was extremely sensitive to touch, to sound, and to his environment so we used those facts to help him sleep. Things we found helpful include checking his bedroom over at night and looking for and ultimately eliminating undesirable aspects. We would check and decide if the room was too hot or too cold and change the temperature to the perfect feel for Christian’s preferred temperature (he prefers to be extra warm).

My son is hypersensitive to noise, the louder things are the more stimulated he becomes so we placed a small fan in his room to drown out any noise the other kids still getting ready for bed would make, or my husband and I possibly watching a movie after everyone was tucked in. Another trick for drowning out noise could be a looped noise, such as waterfalls, or make your own by recording the air conditioner or the heat when it kicks on. The fan trick has proved invaluable because as it turns out we get late night train whistles that I didn’t know about and thankfully the fan keeps the sound from getting him excited enough to wake up!

We also found he really likes deep pressure so we looked into weighted blankets (those can be pricey) and we decided to make our own by sewing magnets along the edges of a blanket. We also found deep pressure vests were helpful (again pricey) and bought t-shirts that were a bit small for him to wear at night over his pajama’s.

We also recently bought a thick and firm foam mattress cover to put under his sheets he likes the soft and even surface. We found too much light kept him from remaining asleep so we hung darker curtains that didn’t let lights become intrusive such as passing car headlights or the moon reflecting on fresh fallen snow. You may find if your son/daughter is sensitive to touch that dry skin can be stimulating try lotion with a soft scent to stop the itch and sooth their senses.

My son is incontinent so something not everyone would need to worry about would be keeping your child dry all night. I check him as I lay him down and when he gets very sleepy I check him again and change him if necessary and we have an absorbency pad beneath him just in case.

There is also the choice of seeking the aide of your child’s doctor for medicine to help them sleep. There are some recent advents of vitamin supplements sold over the counter that can help you sleep, but just to be safe I would recommend asking your child’s doctor before giving them. There are warm teas that sooth if your child likes tea I use that as well.

I know you have heard all too often; as I have that truly “routine is key”! I try and avoid any upsetting routine changes that happen around our nice typical before bed routine and if I do have something that I have to change during that two hour process than I know I will have to deal with the repercussions that occur. I change the TV if they are watching it to more calm/relaxing type of show, but to be honest TV is just too stimulating most the time for us no matter what I change it to.

Remember no one knows you son/daughter as well as you do and combining advice with your own knowledge can really help get your child and yourself a great night’s sleep. Lack of sleep can induce behavior problems the following day even in kids that have lots of energy.

Since finding my amazing Mr. Christian a bedtime routine that helps I have noticed a decrease in behaviors that is a very big plus it’s helped both at home and at school. I hope this blog has been a help to all the parents who are struggling to help their children get a good night’s sleep.


  1. […] your child with autism have trouble sleeping? Both of mine certainly do. Even though my youngest child’s autism symptoms are all subclinical, […]