Sleeping Habits and Rituals

A child sleeping.

Image via Wikipedia

My son sleeps sideways in his bed, with his long legs splayed like a frog so they don’t hang off the edge. He has two pillows, but neither go under his head; he has them both lying parallel to either side of his upper body. His bed is pulled away from the wall, because he otherwise rubs his head against it to the extent that he used to have two very noticeable balding patches from the nightly friction. Each night as he falls asleep I can hear him humming to himself as he rocks from side to side, occasionally bursting out in giggles. At least I know he goes to bed happy!

Bedtimes have always been interesting with our autistic son. We’ve fought through so many rituals and habits to get him to the point he is at now. He used to insist on having no sheets on even in the dead of winter, at the same time that he refused to wear socks. Once we got him wearing socks, he refused to go without, even in the height of summer! Same for the breakthrough with the bed sheets – once we finally got him to sleep under some decent blankets at winter, he continued to insist on them during the hot sticky nights of summer. We’ve got to the point now that it’s summer, and he goes to bed with no socks, and only one sheet and a blanket (solid yay).

There was a time that he enjoyed throwing everything out the window of his second-storey bedroom at night. Each morning we’d be fetching tissue boxes, blankets and toys from the lower veranda roof, or the car park space outside our home (depending on which window he chose). He even managed to get his pillows out the windows at times. This was a particular nuisance when it had rained over-night. The novelty eventually wore off, but it took a long time to get him to stop.

He used to be a miraculously good sleeper at night – a good twelve hours from about 6pm to 6am. Unfortunately he’s now in a solid routine of waking at least once a night, usually around 3am, at which point one of us walks him back to his bedroom and tucks him in. Sometimes he’s anxious during those night visits, but mostly he seems to just be performing a routine. This would bother me more than it currently does, if I wasn’t already up twice a night for my 13 month old; my sleep is already disturbed and I’ve gotten sort of used to it (severe daily sleep-deprivation feels like my natural state of being now).

We pick our battles; you can’t fight every issue at once. Every single day we are working on a variety of problems, prioritising ones that affect his health. We’re currently working on hair washes, drinking from cups, correcting his rolled-in ankles, toilet habits and skills, and at all times we try to help his communication skills, such as correcting his pronoun reversals.

We take one day at a time.

One night at a time.

We’ve come a long way, we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ll get there in the end.

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6 Responses to Sleeping Habits and Rituals

  1. kloppenmum says:

    It’s amazing how good at prioritising you get as a parent, isn’t it? Those things which seemed so important before children, suddenly assume much smaller significance when faced with sleep deprivation and the reality of caring for people other than oneself. Good luck and best wishes.

  2. Leona Byrne says:

    Our sons sound very similar…. right down to the head rubbing and the no sheets…and the throwing things out the windows…. Alicia still insists on the duvet pulled up in the heat of summer…every night. Gain comfort in the fact that you are not alone..each night there are many mums and dads up to their kids…and take solace in the fact that he doesn’t repeatedly flush the toilet and flick the light switches like Alicia did for almost 2 years…every night…for hours…thank goodness she doesn’t do that anymore.

    • That must have been somewhat maddening!

      One of the reasons I enjoy blogging, is the number of times other mums come forward and say “that’s just like what Joey does”; it does give me a sense of being understood and part of a community.

  3. Amanda Speas says:

    Hi, I haves niece who is two years old. She is autistic but we have no idea to what extent yet. Between my mom and I we take care of her. We just take it day by day. She cannot walk talk or crawl. She still eats baby food. She is in therapy right now. My mom and I are frustrated a little bc she likes to pull strands of her hair out and chew on it. The therapist said that is her form of security but we are afraid she is going to pull her hair out until she has bald spots. We have tried to keep her hair pulled back but some how she will manage to snag a piece. We are willing to try anything. Any feedback would be appreciated.


    • Hi Amanda,

      The therapist should have talked more about the function of the hair-pulling (sensory, frustration, anxiety…?) and then offered a way to distract from and replace the behaviour since it’s obviously not in the child’s best interests to be harming herself in this way. You need to push the therapist to further explain the likely purpose of the behaviour and help you come up with an action plan for addressing (replacing) it. If the therapist is still unhelpful or holds to the view that this sort of self-harm is acceptable, I strongly suggest you find a new therapist!

      I’d be interested to hear how you get on. All the best.

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