Monday 9 November 2015

Understanding autistic siblings - it's starting with sleep

Many kids with autism have sleeping difficulties.  We've been dealing with them for many years.  In '5 tips to get more sleep when you have autistic kids', it seemed that one of the hardest things to deal with when you have autism in the family is exhaustion. There are many suggestions for helping kids with autism sleep. Sensory aids such as weighted blankets, routine changes or in some cases melatonin supplements.  

Our son David was diagnosed with ASD when he was nearly four years old. I can count on one hand the number of nights he has slept through the night. But it's not just David and I that suffer from a broken night's sleep now.  It's also our youngest neuro-typical daughter, Jane.

Jane is two and a half years old.  Her current favourite phrase is, "I want one too." It doesn't matter whether it's a biscuit, a power ranger or a push on a swing, Jane doesn't want to miss out.  Recently, this has started to spread to the night.  Just when she was finally sleeping through the night she also became aware that David was not.  Whereas it's possible to think that eventually the older sibling will sleep through too and we can all get some rest, this is currently not expected for David. 

"He might just not need as much sleep" was one of the terrifying responses from his paediatrician. 

And whilst I am glad that this would mean our son isn't tired all the time and fatigued, I'm not enamoured by the prospects of 20 years without a good night's rest. Nor the impacts this could have on Jane's development if she gets into the routine of interrupted sleep at night as the 'norm'.

David gets to read books, David gets attention and David gets hugs to help him either be awake safely or go back to sleep.  Well, Jane wants these too. And I know it's not going to stop there. David gets to jump on the sofa, David gets to clamber over Daddy, David gets two yogurts, or even worse 'but David doesn't have to eat his peas'.

At night I'm explaining to Jane that she needs to go back to her own bed and go to sleep and I'm gently weaning her off the need to have a hug before she goes back each night. I remind her that she's very good at being asleep and although David is better at other things he needs help sleeping so that's why he is up. 

I'm acutely aware that this conversation will be happening a lot soon. I know Jane loves her brother and enjoys playing with him when the opportunity comes up.  She is affectionate and loving. And I hope with our help she will be able to focus on this when times don't make sense, when it feels like David's getting priority treatment or worse, his needs impact on her own desires.

Thankfully, I'm not concerned enough for it to keep me up at night just yet.  We might have to get one of the many books that help siblings understand each other.  I'm sure we will try our best with each occurrence to help Jane understand about her brothers.  Just as we will help David, Anthony and the rest of the family through whatever challenges come up.  In the meantime, it's more important to rid myself of any worries for tomorrow and then think about getting some well-earned sleep while I can.


Our blog - 5 ways to get more sleep with autistic kids
Our blog - Autism and other children in the playground - a ray of sunshine

External Links
National Autistic Society - information for siblings


  1. I can so empathise, we had little sleep for years too. I did read a super book by JKP all about siblings, each chapter written by a sibling of a child with a disability of some kind. Really powerful book.
    Love your blog and great to meet on Twitter. Hayley

    1. I'll add to my list. That's a great honour really as I've very little time to read. Been working my way through The a Wife Project for far too long. Glad you like the blog. Good luck with the book in the USA.

  2. There are so many associated sibling issues - as you say, about what seems fair or not when they are younger. It's difficult to explain to them initially about different treatment, but I do think they soon learn because they are faced with it all the time. NT children are able to learn differently, and they really rather would at the end of the day, even if it seems like not at the time!

  3. Something you are going to very familiar with! Glad to hear it works out.


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