A basic Google search on “autism sleep” quickly returns over twenty eight million results. I daresay there aren’t many places that autism is discussed without sleep being a part of those discussions.
I will confess that I live in a very well insulated bubble and am a bit flabbergasted when I step out of my happy bubble only to realize that some- alright, most- of my ideas are generally regarded as “radical”.
My family is neurodivergent. We all have different sleep needs and preferences. I’ve come to realize that the way we try and make sleep work for us is not how must people do it. And that’s fine.
Melatonin is a word that seems to pop up often when speaking about autism and sleep. I have been advised by countless professionals to give my child melatonin but have never found enough convincing evidence to do so. I know for many families melatonin is the difference between a solid night of sleep and little to no sleep. Both situations are fine- choosing to use it for your child or not.
I feel there are so very many emotions tied into the autism and sleep discussion because sleep is not a luxury. It is not an extra. It is generally not a privilege. Sleep for just about every human being on this planet is a daily necessity. Parents understand just how much learning, growing and developing are going on in our children’s minds and bodies during sleep so we fret when we feel the child isn’t getting enough of it. There is the inundation from the media, doctors, family members, concerned friends about our child’s sleep patterns or lack there of. Add in a parent with a disrupted sleep schedule and it can be difficult to sort through all the advice and stick to the values that are important to your family.
I will say, that over the years, I have come to respect my child’s sleep needs. I have learned the hard way that it is 100% impossible to force a child to eat, sleep or toilet. I have learned the hard way that children absolutely have the right to bodily autonomy and this includes eating, sleeping and toileting. I do regret some of my past choices, and continue to make mistakes. The important part for me is to learn as best I can from these mistakes and do better the next time.
I won’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to raising my neurodivergent children. I can nonetheless say with confidence that sharing sleep with my children is one of the most sacred experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing as a parent. There is truly nothing sweeter, nothing more beautiful than settling down for the night, in full knowledge that my family is tucked in and safe right next to me.
My children are getting older. They are no longer infants where it would be semi-acceptable to have them sleep in our bed or in our room. As each year has passed, I’ve had to remind myself that just because I may think my child should be doing x/y/z because said child is at a certain age, doesn’t mean that is what is best for my child or what they may need.
It has taken me a long time to trust in my children to show me what they need. It has, at times, been a struggle for me to step aside and hold their hands while they show me the way. I can, however say, with complete certainty, that it has been one of the most satisfying parts of my journey as their mama.