What I do when my child with #Autism can’t sleep? 

The notion of special needs parents having kids with sleep issues isn’t far-fetched at all. I deal with this more times than I care to remember.

As any special needs parent will tell you, we don’t sleep if they don’t sleep. 

Tonight is another one of those night for me, and this makes the second or third time this week. I’m once again waiting up with one of my kids and the hour is pushing 2 am.

When kids with Autism can’t sleep, it’s not something that’s easy to overcome. There could be a million reasons for them not sleeping and figuring out what the problem is can be next to impossible.

We’ve used a natural sleep aide called Melatonin for years but lately it seems to no longer be working.

Tonight I’m up with my middle kiddo Elliott.

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I’ve been keeping an eye on him while Lizze and I were watching TV. One of the methods we have employed is the use of our Vivint cameras. Some people freak out over things like that, but for a parent with a child on the Autism Spectrum, cameras can be an amazing tool. It’s not about invading privacy; it’s about not being able to be in more than one place at a time.

Kids on the spectrum have a tendency to wander and get into things. Getting hurt or lost is of real concern for many parents.

I’m not spying on my kids, but the cameras notify me of movement in a specified time frame. It’s, for this reason, I knew Elliott was having a hard time falling asleep.

Yes, I know the room is a mess, but I have to pick my battles.


One of the methods we have employed is the use of our Vivint cameras. Some people freak out over things like that, but for a parent with a child on the Autism Spectrum, cameras can be an amazing tool. It's not about invading privacy; it's about not being able to be in more than one place at a time. -Rob GorskiClick To Tweet


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For some reason, he’s been unable to fall asleep and the more conventional methods of trying to help have failed.  He tried a warm bath, a snack, back scratching, music and even TV but nothings helping.

As a last ditch effort to secure at least some sleep for both Elliott and myself, I employed the only thing that I know will work but comes at a price.

Camping out on the couches in the living room is what I resort to when all else fails. For whatever reason, moving him to the couch in the living room helps him to fall asleep. This is a last ditch effort because it means I have to sleep on the other couch and that’s not always good for my back.

I also don’t want this becoming a habit, but as Dr. Pattie tells us all the time, you have to do what you have to do to sleep. If that means sleeping on the floor next to their bed or camping out in the living room, so be it.  It’s a greater good thing.

I have to ask myself if I’m better off not sleeping at all or sleeping in the living room…  I already don’t get enough sleep and so I can justify moving to the living room to salvage as much sleep for myself and whoever isn’t sleeping that night as I can.


  1. Chris H

    We now use clonidine with our 11 year old, but the problem is getting the dosage right — enough to get him to sleep, but not too much to have him hung over the next day. Even then, a bad dream, a little noise or just the feel of the sheets/blanket wakes him up and then we start all over again. Sleep is the key to his day so the experiments continue.

    I have spent many a night sleeping on the floor next to his bed. We try the warm Epsom salt bath with oils,etc, back rubs, all with limited success.

    1. Rob Gorski

      Chris, I can totally relate. My youngest was on Clonidine but it didn’t work for him. The amount of effort that goes into this whole sleep thing makes us need sleep all that much more.

  2. Jimmy Rock

    Could you talk a little about why it necessarily has to be that, as an absolute, you can’t sleep unless your kids are sleeping? I mean I get it, I’ve dealt with my share of serious sleep issues with one of my own kids, and I realize that is often an impossibility. But is there no way for you to set ground rules and/or create a safe environment for your kids within your house in the event that they can’t sleep so that there does not necessarily have to be constant supervision? Maybe not all the time, but at least some of the time?

    Maybe specifically, for example, if you have a night where you’re resigned to having Elliott sleep on the couch, why can’t you bring him to the couch, tell him to try to go to sleep there, go back to bed yourself, and see what happens? Or, if you have to stay with him until he falls asleep, why do you then have to sleep on the other couch? I guess I’m asking about what the danger is in having Elliott sleep on the couch which requires you to be there next to him, as opposed to if he sleeps in his room?

    I’m in no way trying to oversimplify this – I know from personal experience how challenging this is.

    1. Rob Gorski


      As you know, everyone’s situation is different. I’m unfamiliar with your specific experience but I’m always interested in learning should you decide to share. 🙂

      There are a few reasons that I do things the way I do. For starters, we live in a bad neighborhood, and whether or not it makes sense, I’m not comfortable with the boys being downstairs at night without me, should something happen.

      Secondly, because we live where we live, the alarm is ALWAYS armed, and if the someone is downstairs, I have to turn off certain aspects of said alarm to avoid that someone from setting it off.

      We have people come up to our door at all hours of the night, and I’m not comfortable with the kids being down there alone at night.

      I suppose that’s a personal choice that other’s might not make themselves but it’s where I stand, and everything we do is at the recommendation of the boy’s therapist who knows them very well.

      Does any of this make sense?

      If I’m downstairs, I can fall asleep on the couch while they’re watching TV or something but wake up immediately should anything happen.

      1. Jimmy Rock

        Makes much more sense in that context, thanks. Sorry you have to deal with those kind of security issues. You’ve mentioned how you believe the simple change of environment sometimes helps as far as sleep is concerned, so it is unfortunate that you don’t have a safe place where the boys could have a change of environment to foster sleep. In my case when sleep for my daughter was an issue we did – there was an option to go into another room to read, draw, etc. Not to necessarily fall asleep there, but just to at least switch things up and not have to be laying in bed not sleeping…

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