Let’s face it. Nothing in autism is easy. Nothing. As I read Angela’s blog about the Doodlebug and his sleep issues, I remember those terrible dark days. Michael will probably shudder when he reads this as he remembers them as well. It was not a fun time in our family. It was only by the grace of God and my mom (our fantastic Nana!) that we survived . I will get to that in a minute.
There was a boy a long, long time ago that couldn’t sleep. It’s not that he didn’t want to sleep. He really did. His little body was exhausted from running on all pistons all day. Alas, he had some severe deficiencies in that little body that made sleep elusive. You can’t sleep without the right balance in your body no matter how hard you try. Because this same handsome little boy had autism, he could not be left alone as it was not safe. He had no sense of danger and would often do things with nary a thought that he might get hurt. So either Mom or Dad had to stay up with him as well.
This could be the story of any child with autism. Unfortunately, this is our story. For probably 2 years, Logan slept sporadically. Never long enough for anyone else to get any sleep. Have you ever gone an extended period with minimal sleep? It’s not fun. After a while, sheer exhaustion sets in and your body starts to function on it’s own. Nana would often take Logan for several hours for no other reason than to give us some much needed rest. For sure, we would not have been able to take care of Madison during this time. Thank God, she came much later. At this point, we had a non verbal child prone to meltdowns for no reason that couldn’t be left alone for even a second. (Sound familiar anyone?)
The first thing that we asked our DAN dr. was how do we get the boy to sleep? What he said was astonishing. You reduce the inflammation in his poor little body and get his vitamin and mineral levels up where they need to be. It sounded so easy yet we were completely oblivious to it. I was a little skeptical at first but figured what the heck? He wasn’t sleeping now. It couldn’t get any worse in my opinion. So, we tried his plan. A couple of tweaks later, we had a sleeping child. Was it instantaneous? Nope. Nothing ever is in autism. You have to give the body time to adjust and the levels to stabilize. That is what I have found to be true in Logan.
Here’s what we did to start:
- epsom salt baths- you have to start low and slow with this. Some kids won’t like the texture of the water in the salt. Logan totally loved it. You could see him start to relax as his body absorbed the much needed magnesium from the epsom salts. We worked up to a cup of salt in the bath at least every other night. As he began sleeping better, we were able to back it down to once a week. You will find your sweet spot. It was probably a year of every other night baths until we started backing it down. Just a warning here though, IF the child gets too relaxed then other bodily functions may happen as well.
- melatonin- you can get drops, capsules or chewables. I wouldn’t recommend the chewables as they are quite nasty to be honest. Use your child’s weight for the dosage. If your child has difficulty staying asleep then try the time release capsules. Another thing that I learned is that after awhile you have to give the body a break from it or it will lose it’s potency. We take a week long sabbatical at least twice a year. Another thing to remember is to regulate the dosage as your child grows. After Logan went through a massive growth spurt, we found that his 3 mg tablet was working anymore. A quick call to his DAN! dr who suggested that we increase the dose and we were back in business. Melatonin also helps decrease inflammation. Two birds with one stone.
- 5htp is a precursor to serotonin. One of the things that your body needs in order to make and process melatonin is serotonin. It also makes you feel less anxious and depressed ( just watch those ads on tv for anti depressants.)
These are just a few things that worked for us. A consistent bedtime routine along with being home at bedtime always helped too. Many people told us that we needed to teach him to sleep anywhere or we would regret it later. No we didn’t . We needed to teach him to sleep period. Then we could work on sleeping in other places. As long as he was sleeping, I didn’t care that we had to be home every night at a certain time. I didn’t care that the routine had to be done the same way every night and by the same person or a meltdown would ensue. All I cared about was sleep. Welcome to autismland!