Children with additional needs often cope best with a predictable environment and positive routine. When things change or when there is uncertainty, this can lead to anxiety or behaviours that may challenge. It is important that we try to provide predictability where possible to reduce anxiety and increase participation in our daily lives.
Making a timetable for each day using visuals can help children understand what is happening each day and make the day more predictable.You can download pictures from the website below to make schedules or, you can use your own photos or drawings. Remember young children can only concentrate for short periods of time; schedule breaks, time to play and time to exercise
There are several reasons why a child/young person may have difficulty with their sleep, particularly with the current change in routine.
If you are concerned about your child’s sleep, it is often a good idea to keep a sleep diary. This allows you to identify any patterns in your child’s sleep which can help you understand why they may be finding things more difficult. It is worth considering any events, which have happened during the day, and your child’s actions on the lead up to bedtime.
Some possible reasons for troubled sleep include:
An over-stimulating room – Does your child get out of bed to play with their toys? Distractions in a child’s room can delay them from settling.
Noise – Are there any noises inside or outside the home that may be disturbing your child? Masking sounds in your home with something like a white noise app can help if noise is an issue for your child.
Light – Is the room dark enough? Melatonin (our natural sleep hormone) is produced in the evening when the light starts to dim, which is why it is a good idea to put your child to sleep in a dark room. Black-out blinds can be purchased to help keep the room dark at bedtime.
Bedding – Is your child kicking the bedding off during the night and getting cold? If so, you could consider a sleep suit for your child or tucking a double duvet under a single mattress to stop it coming off during the night. Some children have found it helpful to use a sensory compression sheet, which provides extra pressure for those children who need that to settle.
Our activities in the daytime and evening can predict our sleep that evening.
Here are some tips:
During the day
Try to get as much natural daylight as possible.
Avoid too much caffeine, this includes fizzy drinks, especially leading up to bedtime.
Try to find ways of dealing with worry. For some children/young people, this could be writing down their worries and popping them into a ‘worry box,’ so that they can forget about them until another time
Try to avoid daytime napping.
During the evening:
Avoid any stimulating activities. TV, tablets and phones emit a blue light which inhibits our body’s production of melatonin (which helps us sleep)
Don’t eat a large meal too close to bedtime. A light supper like toast, cereal and milk is good.
Try to get schoolwork out of the way early in the day so it is not a worry in the evening time.
Routine is very important at bedtime. We tend to thrive on routines and children/young people with additional needs especially will respond positively to having structure at bedtime. Once a routine has been established it is important to keep this consistent throughout the week even if your child is staying elsewhere for the night.
When creating a routine, it is helpful to decide what time, you would like your child to be in bed, and work back from this (despite not going to school right now). If bath-time is incorporated into this routine ideally it should occur at least half an hour before your child goes to sleep so their body temperature has time to regulate; a warm bath can increase body temperature and lead to difficulty sleeping.
Rewarding your child:
It is important to remain positive with your child about bedtime which should help reduce any anxiety associated with it. Give your child praise at bedtime for what they are doing well and give consistent rewards until the behaviour is firmly established.