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How I've Coped With the Sleep Challenges of My Special Needs Son

09/11/2015 05:04 EDT | Updated 09/11/2016 05:12 EDT
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Sleep is a word that was hard to come by for me in the first few years of my son's life. He just did not like to sleep very much, whereas I, like any new parent, craved it like a thirsty person's craves that glass of water after a long workout. He would eventually fall asleep, but it would be in my arms. Self-soothing was, and still is, something that is incredibly difficult for him.

We have struggled as a family with his sleep issues. We sleep trained when he was little and he learned to sleep alone. This phase lasted for two years, and then he was back asking us to lie down with him as he fell asleep at night. Last year we worked with a really good psycho educator, and with her suggestions, he was falling asleep in his own room beautifully after about a month. This next period of solo sleeping lasted only three months however, before his daytime behaviours got so bad I didn't know what I would do. So, I tackled the daytime behaviours and now we have that under control.

The problem is that his insecurities come out at night, like so many children's. He is scared to sleep in his own room where the monsters are, and is back to having us comfort him to go to sleep, and now due to those pesky monsters that are very real to him, he needs a parent there all night with him. Sigh. Back to square A.

When I've left the room, he will sleep till the wee hours on his own, and simply get up and come to my room. Taking him back causes screaming and no one sleeps. I have been researching what steps I could take that would help him see that he can comfort himself. The other night we had a big fight and he did end up going to bed by himself. But I did not dare take a chance of a night waking, so did the usual routine after he was asleep and went to sleep beside him. I know, I missed my chance to see what would happen!

The thing is, I want to find a permanent solution to this problem, where he can feel relaxed going to bed by himself, and I can have my personal space back. I also want him to feel secure enough in himself. I've read lots of stories of children who co-slept with parents until a certain age. Then, magically it seemed, they felt ready to go it on their own and felt secure in this decision. I love the work of Dr. Gordon Neufeld that tells parents that children will tell you when they are ready for things, and when they are not. That is why I have gone back to co-sleeping, though I know I have been judged for it by some.

Whatever I try, I want the two of us to be happy with the results, and I don't want to see night terrors following my son and I into the daytime. God knows life is hard on him in ways it isn't on the rest of us. Autism is like that, as are a lot of other neuro developmental disorders. Why should I make it worse if he's not ready to take this step? How do I really know how things affect him? Still, I know in some ways I may be feeding the fear, but brushing over it and its repercussions won't help anyone, especially my son.

For now, I am looking into other gradual changes I can make at bedtime and with the bedtime routine. I know that I have to find that right balance, the missing ingredient to help him learn to decompress, knowing I and his father are there, but feeling in his bones that he is capable of comforting himself. He needs to know he will master this as he mastered other things in his life like talking, walking and soon, reading, writing, and math. I know in time we will resolve these nighttime issues. My goal is to make the process as painless as possible, and show my son that he is capable of overcoming any hardship. He has, and continues to show me that every day of my life!

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