Sleeping sickness

There is nothing more guaranteed to make the future seem bleak and life feel pretty unbearable than lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is not something to be taken lightly. I know far too well exactly how it feels to crawl into bed after spending four hours trying to get one of the children to sleep, only to have another of them wake up.

Teenagers' time

Unfortunately I am in the exhausting position of struggling to get Joe and Ben to sleep for hours, only to have a host of noisy teenagers descend upon the house, start playing music and giggling whilst they get ready to go out. How many parents of teenagers can settle into a restful sleep knowing that their teenager is out at a party or a nightclub? I certainly can't. I therefore spend an anxious evening awaiting their homecoming, sometimes till 3am, only to breathe a sigh of relief that they are home safe and sound, get into bed myself.. .and have Ben wake up!

Teenagers seem to have their own variety of sleep problems - they want to sleep all day and stay up all night! With younger children in the house, this is a poor combination and one that as yet I have found no solutions for. If any parent reading this is in the same colourful situation as myself and has a combination of many ages and abilities, then all I can suggest is that if you have a partner, you take it in turns to wait up for your teenagers. If you cannot settle till you know they are safe then take it in turns with your partner to get up with the little one. If, like myself, you are a single parent then maybe you can periodically have a friend or family member to sleep over and help or even arrange for the younger children to sleep over at a friend or relative's house.

Unfortunately I am not in that position and in addition I rarely have just my own children sleeping at my house, it is usually any number of teenagers who sleep on the floor and indeed any available space after a night out.. .hardly a great help to me in the morning! The two younger boys get up at their usual unearthly hour and do their utmost to awake these sleeping bodies that are strewn around the house. One of Matthew's friends has been weed upon, smashed over the head with a bottle and had a dirty nappy flung in his face...and still he comes back for more! As strange as it may seem to many parents, the fact that the teenagers' friends are comfortable playing snooker and sleeping here gives me a night's peace. I can quite easily go to bed knowing that the most they can do is a make a noise and a mess - far easier to deal with than the knowledge of Matthew running around the streets on his own at 3am.

Another thing my teenagers do to indulge their worrywart of a mother is to phone occasionally when they are out. I am often on the receiving end of a noisy phone call whereby one of them (plus a group of friends) screams down the phone at 2am and tells me he or she loves me.it makes it all worthwhile!

The sound of silence

Parents, I know it must be hard - I have seen Ben be such a pain (and I guess I am one myself!) but believe me when I say that we just can't help it. In a frightening world, I can't blame Ben and other small kids for not wanting to be dragged away into the unknown. (Jackson 2002)

Yet another quote from Luke that tugged on my heartstrings and made me realize that maybe I am not the only one that I should be feeling sorry for. (Though when I am dragged out of bed each morning I have my doubts!)

Sleep problems seem to come in a variety of forms - problems getting to sleep, problems staying asleep - with so many shades of autism and such colourful children, I am lucky enough to have an exciting mixture of both! My children are the world's worst sleepers and I have already written about the horrific incident that happened as a result of Luke trying to find a way to sleep. However what works for one child may not do for another and just because something hasn't worked at one time in a child's life, it does not mean that it never will. The secret is to try things periodically and find what works best for the family as a whole.

I have tried every possible way to get Luke, and subsequently Joe and Ben, off to sleep and to keep them asleep once they managed it. Some ways have been successful for one and not another, some work for a short period oftime and some not at all. Here are some tips that may help your child (and thus you!) get a better night's sleep. For those of you who have read Luke's book, you may recognize some of these tips.. .obviously the strategies I have tried over the years are the ones he is familiar with!

• Dietary changes and biological interventions are the first port of call in my opinion before embarking on any other methods. That was one area of their lives that a change in diet didn't help my boys with, but for many, many children, their sleep problems have been eradicated via this route.

• Blackout curtains are a must for children on the autistic spectrum. Children on the autistic spectrum seem not to produce enough melatonin, the hormone produced in the pineal gland and the retina that regulates our bodies' capacity to recognize night and day. Therefore it needs to be dark before their bodies can shut down and sleep.

• Melatonin has been a lifesaver for us. Whilst it doesn't help with the problem of Ben waking up after two or three hours, it does get the boys off to sleep and gives me a much needed break.

• Any annoying sounds in your own or your child's room can prevent sleep. People on the autistic spectrum tend to be far more sensitive to noise and smells.

• A lot of people have difficulty with their body temperature and maybe this is causing a problem getting to sleep or staying asleep. Just because your AS or autistic children don't tell you that they are too hot or cold, it doesn't mean they are not.

• Another thing a lot of people on the autistic spectrum need to help them sleep is to be wrapped up in something heavy. All of my boys look like little slugs when they are wrapped up in their quilts in bed!

• Tell your children what to do when they go to bed. It seems so simple but the actual routine of drawing the curtains or blind, turning the light off, getting into bed, lying down and pulling the quilt over you and going to sleep, is not something instinctive to people on the autistic spectrum.

• Routine too is something that is so important for people on the autistic spectrum. Just one toy out of place or cleaning the child's teeth before washing his or her face can be enough to unsettle them. If Ben deviates from his lengthy routine just slightly then we are all awake all night!

• Encourage your children to talk for a while about anything that is on their mind. Let them draw pictures of the bad times at school or wherever; you write them down and then let them throw them away and be very clear in telling them that the nasty events of the day have now gone.

• An obvious thing to look at is the amount children sleep in the day and what time they go to bed. Try to keep them up later and prevent them from falling asleep in the day so all their sleep is together. I must say that this didn't work with

Joe and Ben. The later they stay up, the more hyper they get.

• Try to ensure your children get plenty of fresh air and exercise - not easy with a computer obsessed AS child I know!

• Make sure that your children know that even if they are not asleep, night time is a time to stay in their rooms. Video tapes, music, toys and books may cause distractions but they can also prevent the rest of the family from losing sleep.

Beating Insomnia

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