For children with sensory issues, including those with autistic-spectrum disorders, bedtime can be a particularly trying time -- for both parents and kids. It's easy for such kids to get too wound up to sleep, or too distracted by excess sensory input to settle down. But with a little trial and error, you should be able to find a sleep routine that works for your child by reducing distracting sensory input and providing soothing sensory experiences instead. These strategies can be helpful to children without specific sensory processing problems, too, and who just need a little extra help falling asleep.
It may seem obvious to state that low lights help children sleep. But getting the exact right lighting may take a little extra work. Some children sleep best in utter darkness, while others are afraid of the dark and prefer a night light or other indirect lighting. You may need to consider light leakage from windows and doors as well. Blackout curtains or dark paper on windows may help.
Pay attention to the sounds of your child's bedroom. Some children need silence in order to sleep and are disturbed by just about any noise. Many, however, find some sort of white noise helpful. It blocks out distracting sounds from the rest of the house while providing soothing sensory stimulation. Low music can work for some children as well. Try a white noise generator designed specifically for nurseries, or set up a stereo with lullabies out of reach of your child and turn it on at lights out.
A little touch therapy can help your child relax into sleep. A light back rub is probably familiar to many parents, but slower, deeper tissue massage can also be useful. Gently but firmly rub legs, arms, shoulders and neck. Take your time. Use a lotion or cream to help ease friction.
Sometimes a warm bath right before bed can help relax children with sensory issues. The warm water helps relax muscles and ease tension. Adding Epsom salts to the water can enhance the relaxing effects of a bedtime bath.
Experiment with pajamas and bedclothes. Buy tagless pajamas to avoid discomfort. Some kids like the comfort of heavy or even weighted blankets on top of them; others prefer no covers at all.