From the day little man was born, he has always slept tucked into my arm. Cosleeeping with our children was always a natural choice for me, especially since I breastfed. Now the he is 3 and 45lbs (ya, he is a brut!), cosleeeping really isn’t comfortable for any of us. Learning how to end cosleeeping with an Autistic child is a whole different ball game than neurotypical children.
Little man is our fourth child, and our second child with autism spectrum disorder. With all my years experience, you would think it was be a walk in the park, right? Well, I’ll tell you a little secret that’s a well-known phrase in the autism community. ” If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Every child is different and so if every parent. This go round was harder than with our daughter, but with the same steps we finally accomplish little man sleeping in his own bed (without me!).
Today, we are going to go over the tried and true steps for ending Cosleeeping with an Autistic child. The only factor to can cause these steps not to work are your own emotions. If you are not ready to separate and having them sleep on their own, you will have a very hard time going through with ending Cosleeeping.
After we go over ending Cosleeeping with an Autistic child, I will cover some advice on helping you through the change as well. So, let’s get started!
Ending Cosleeeping with an Autistic Child
Step 1- Preparation
When planing a major change in an Autistic child’s routine, the first thing to focus on is preparing everything. When it comes to ending Cosleeeping with an Autistic child, this can be one of the longest steps.
The first thing to do is to prepare their new bed space. Ideally, this will be a bedroom close to yours, with simple surrounding to limit sensory overload.
A bedroom with their bed, simple decorations, a few of their favorite stuffed toys and possibly a small selection of books to read at bed time. By limiting the distractions, you will greatly ease the process.
Another huge step in preparation is creating a routine. Ideally, you would take your current routine and just transfer it to the room. Now if your anything like we were, this can be difficult as you are the main factor of your child falling asleep.
Decide on a routine that works best for your child and you. Then, create a visual schedule that reflects that. (You can access ours free in our resource library). Hang the visual schedule in their room, in a spot that they can easily see it.
Step 2 – Introductions
The next step to ending Cosleeeping with an autistic child is to introduce them to their new sleep space. Familiarity is very important, so you cannot expect your child to sleep in a new space they are unfamiliar with.
Start by making it a big deal. A be excited when you show them their new room/bed space. Try sitting on the bed to read a book or play with stuffed animals.
The key here is just to make this a familiar place. No expectations to sleep, just that this is now their “big boy/girl” bedroom or bed.
Make sure from here forward that you refer to your bed as “mommy/daddy bed” and their bed as “name’s bed.” This gives a sense of ownership to both beds and helps dramatically as the process continues.
Step 3- Nap Time
For kids that still nap-
Sleeping in a new space is difficult. If your child still takes naps, this is the best opportunity to introduce them to their new bed.
Let your child know that we are going to take a nap in their new big boy bed. Make it a very simple direction, making sure not to ask a questions. Giving simple, straight forward directions will help your child understand your expectation. By asking questions, you create the opportunity for argument.
(Personal note) One thing that helped us was taking all the covers off our bed before nap time. Then when little man argued that he wanted to sleep in mommy’s bed, I had a very visual excuse of why we couldn’t!
When it comes to nap time transitions, if you typically lay down with them to nap, it is absolutely okay to do that during this transition. The idea is to make this a comfortable and safe feeling place for them. If they already nap on their own, score!
Do this for two to three weeks to develop a new routine and for this space to become the norm for nap time.
For kids that do not nap
If you are past the nap stage, don’t fret. Most children still need time to calm down. Sit with them to read a book, or even let then watch their tablet if that is what calms them down. Set aside at least 20 minutes a day to do this.
Do this daily for two to three so that the space becomes familiar to them.
Step 4- Bed Time
This is where the hard work comes in for ending Cosleeeping with an Autistic child. The key to making this fully successful is following through. Make sure that you will be able to put them to bed at the same time every night (while following routine) for at least two weeks.
At the start of your bed time routine, casually let your child know that “we are going to sleep in (child’s name) bed. Yes, I said “we.” You have slept in the same bed this long, so easing them into their new bed means a few nights of you in theirs.
This is when you and your child will lay in their bed. According to your size and their bed size, this may be the most difficult. A twin size bed would be ideal for this transition.
This is where things get a little more comfortable for you. Make a bed in the flirt directly next to their bed. Go through the bed time routine, let them know you are going to sleep on the floor next to them. More than likely, you’ll have no argument. If you do, just simply say because mommy/daddy back is sore so your going to lay on the floor tonight.
(Personal note) I placed my hand on his back until he fell asleep. There was one night where I woke up with him laying in the floor with me. This was rather humorous as we were both laying in about 2 ft of space.
Step 5- Sleeping Alone
This step varies slightly based off the location of your room to their space. If your rooms a close, then this step will have you back in your bed. If not, I would suggest making yourself a bed slightly outside their room until they are sleeping in their bed without concert.
Take out your make shift bed from beside their bed. Let your child know you will be sleeping in your bed tonight, then follow through with the bed time routine. Let them know if they wake up, to come get you. You may need to stick around until they are almost asleep, then leave the room.
If your child wakes up, take them back to their bed to have them fall asleep again. Remind them that you will be in your bed if they wake up. As many times as this happens, just follow through with putting them back in their bed. Every child is different, so this may take just a few days to a week or so for them to get used to. Just be patient, and follow through.
Step 6- Success
This is where that weird, magical moment happens. You get your child to sleep in their bed and then you go on to seep in your own bed. The next thing you know, it is morning and your child did not wake you up. First, you will go make sure they are still alive (we’ve all done it, lol). Then you will realize that you both have actually done it.
There will be plenty of nights where your child will wake up still and come get you (or call your name). That is just a part of everyday parenting. There may even be nights where you wake up and your child has climbed in bed and you’ll have no clue That is all okay.
Coping with Parent Guilt
According to how long you have been cosleeping, you may feel guilt or even loss when ending cosleeping. If you have a spouse or significant other, this would be a great time to reach out to them for comfort. These are absolutely normal feelings! I cried the second night our son slept completely alone (the first night I slept though!). It is a big change for you as well. You can also reach out to a close friend, family member, or other parents of autistic children.
Another thing that can help is a body pillow. I was very used to having my son sleep in my left arm. So when he began to sleep on his own, I struggled with sleeping on my own! Hugging a body pillow was a huge help on the transition for me!
Ending Cosleeping with an Autistic Child
Ending Cosleeping with an autistic child is a process. The length of time that it takes will depend on you and your child. Just remember to have patience and always show love in your actions. If you need support along the way, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me through the contact link above or join us over on our facebook group called Embracing Neurodiversity!
Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families. She is one of the head creators behind the #WeLoeveMoms campaign and is also featured in the “Amazing Moms” coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho. She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.