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Bedtime, mealtimes, and autism

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    It is common for children with ASD to experience trouble with sleeping, but this will vary on your child. Eating problems are also common, with some children only eating certain food, others not eating in places such as school, and some experiencing pica (eating items that are not considered to be food). 

    Bedtime

    • Engage in calming activities prior to bedtime. Proprioception is the key to going to sleep, staying asleep and in turn a restful sleep.
    • Take note of child’s preferences for types of sheets and blankets.
    • Some children sleep better with layers rather than duvets.
    • A duvet with extra togs may help your child calm.
    • Weighted blanket may help.
    • Play soft, soothing music.
    • Try to avoid your child engaging in any screen time at least one hour before bed time. Reading is a better option to promote sleep.
    • If your child wants a snack ensure its full of protein rather than sugar or carbs.

    Mealtimes

    • Before mealtimes try to introduce games which include rocking motions (slow repetitive motion), firm pressure (e.g. hugs) and heavy work (e.g. moving furniture). This can help to calm the sensory system in preparation.
    • Dining area should clearly look like eating area.
    • Position over responsive child so that no one has to pass behind them.
    • Ensure food is appropriate temperature.
    • Use weighted or heavier cutlery.
    • Allow child to be involved in the preparation of food where possible.
    • Encourage child to be involved in preparation of meal times e.g. setting the table, moving furniture into position, wiping surfaces etc.
    • Ask them to chew on ice before and during a meal if you are trying a different flavour or texture, this again will reduce the sensitivity in their mouth making it less likely for them to respond in a ‘flight or fight’ manner.
    • Allow them to drink liquids of differing temperature and also some drinks that are fizzy.
    • Are there distractions such as sounds, smells, sights? You may want to try playing background music and soft lighting. How about using a tablecloth and plastic dishes that don’t clatter on the table?
    • Brush teeth using an electric tooth brush and encourage your child to brush their tongue and the insides of his cheeks to try to reduce the sensitivity in his mouth. This will help with mealtimes.
    • Using a mouth toy may help to reduce the oral sensitivity.
    • If your child avoids mixing textures, serve their portion separated out, rice on one plate beans on another. You can also gradually add texture; a very light coat of tomato sauce on their pasta may be all they can tolerate, but over time as the foods become more familiar, they may be more accepting of sauce and eventually tolerate the type with tomato chunks in and bits of meat in.

    With sleeping and eating problems being common for children with ASD, knowing strategies to support and encourage your child are important for helping them develop.

    If you are looking for further guidance on sleep, get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help.

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