It’s normal for children to have nightmares once in a while. However, for kids who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), communication difficulties, and sensory dysfunction distress the child more from all these night terrors. Studies state that around 60% of children with ASD have trouble sleeping due to this problem.
While you cannot eliminate nightmares as a parent, you can help your child cope with the stress they experience.
Understand The Causes Of Nightmares
Uncovering the primary causes of nightmares of those with ASD has not yet been successful. However, experts have pinpointed several factors which might increase the risk of experiencing these situations. Some of these include the following:
- Scary movies, TV shows, or stories
- Irregular sleep routine or deprivation of sleep
- Significant and sudden changes at home or school
- Stressful situations
- A fever
- Medications for ASD
“Autism tends to shine a bright light on whatever issues were already there.” Janeen Herskovitz, MA, LMHC said. As a parent, you need to have an idea of what contributes to your child’s night terrors. Once you have determined what these are, create a plan on how you can lower your child’s exposure to these problems.
Set A Proper Stage For Sleeping
Staci Lee Schnell, MS, CS, LMFT once said, “Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain processes complex stimuli.” Therefore, you should establish a pre-sleeping routine for your child to follow. First, set a regular timeslot for them to lie on their bed. Make sure that they have at least 10 hours of sleep every day. Explain to them that those who sleep late are more likely to experience nightmares. Second, impose a rule that all electronic gadgets should be turned off at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Do this is to ensure that they don’t produce a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin.
Lastly, prepare a calming activity for them to help relax their mind and body. You may opt to play a board game, read a story, go outside to look at the stars, or take a bath.
Conquer The Darkness
There are two ways for your child to conquer darkness. The first strategy is to dash your child’s room with a small amount of light. You can either install a dimmer in the bedroom or turn on the nightlights until he or she falls asleep. As suggested also in an article about toys for girls in Family Hype website, you can also let your child keep his or her favorite toy or blanket to help him, or her settle down.
Seek Outside Help
It is also advisable for you to seek outside help, primarily if these night terrors are disrupting your child’s waking life. The best form of therapy for those with ASD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In here, the therapist will teach techniques on how the child can transform these scary thoughts into positive images. The therapist will also guide him or her in ways to address the anxiety brought about by these nightmares.
“Autism is a result of neurological differences in the structure of the brain that distinguish it from what we call the neurotypical brain. It is not mental illness or a personality disorder.” Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC said. So to find the best therapist for your child, you may opt to ask the help of your pediatrician or check in with an ASD local support group for parents.
While we cannot prevent night terrors from happening, there are various ways for parents to provide comfort to children to reduce the frequency of nightmares. You only have to test all of these techniques and find the best ones which work for your child.