Insomnia is a common disorder in the Autism community and is characterized as not being able to fall asleep or waking up intermittently during the night. I like many others on the Spectrum suffer from chronic insomnia, which is when insomnia lasts for multiple nights that can last months or years at a time. The causes vary but I am just going to focus on two of them in this post, and those would be insomnia caused by stress and sensory issues.
Stress can be caused by many things in the life of an individual on the Spectrum. The main one I believe would be thinking about whether or not one communicated effectively during the day. I say this because of all the nights I have been up trying to recap the day and determine how effective my communication was during that day. Whether it was: stating my phrases correctly, so to not offend others by missaying something; reading verbal cues correctly, to see if a person was actually interested in what I had to say or if I was going on and on about a certain topic to the point I ended up annoying someone, and hearing fluctuations correctly, to be able to know if someone was being sarcastic about something and whether my response was appropriate or not. As your probably thinking, this can get very long if I had quite the sociable day. It gets even longer if I wonder off thinking about random topics and what if scenarios, which both add on to the stress of living on the Spectrum.
However I do want to give a theory of stressed related insomnia since a lot of kids on the Spectrum have insomnia and I know I really did not think about social interactions till I was well into my teens. The theory is that with these kids that have insomnia, is that they have no idea what is going to happen to them if they fall asleep and thus are stressed out about that to the point sleep is no longer a option. This theory of course is a better fit for those that have sensory issues.
Imagine this, throughout the day you are bombarded by lights, noises, things that come into physical contact with you, tastes, and smells. Then its night time and you essentially turn off three of those senses. Those being sight, taste, and physical contact of things. That leaves you with hyper sensitive listening and smelling, if you believe senses heighten due to loss of other senses and I do. How can anyone expect to sleep if every little noise sounds ten times louder and ever smell is ten times stronger? It is near impossible because I personally have very sensitive ears at night and every little noise that is not repetitive long enough will just keep me up. This comes from someone with very little sensory issues, just imagine what it might be like for someone who has major sensory issues, aka sensory processing disorder (not deemed a disorder by doctors, by the way).
With all this being said, one would think the next paragraph would be on solutions to this problem. Well, unfortunately I am still looking for one myself and am not a licensed physician to do so. All I can say is that exercise and a proper diet(like no caffeine at night) can help influence your system to relax naturally at night time to help deal with the stress of living on the Spectrum. But I am not one to say no to suggestions, so what have you found to help you/your child/ someone you know to end their cycles of insomnia?
When dealing with anyone with a disability of any kind this topic is always brought up of should and how do you accommodate a person with a disability to give them a shot at being successful.
Definition of accommodation(I like to use definitions a lot)-the process of adapting or adjusting to someone or something
First thing I noticed in the definition brought up using a simple web search, is that the definition does not specify easier. It just says adapting or adjusting to someone or something. So lets know use this definition with the Autism population.
The Autism population needs several accommodations to have the ability to succeed. But what are they? This would be like a special education classroom that has less students to teacher ratio to provide more direct instruction. This would be like going to certain therapies daily to help with the many behavior, fine/gross motor skills, and language issues that may or may not come with a child's diagnosis. This would be like having head phones, sunglasses, or chew toys that help with the many sensory issues that may or may not come with the diagnosis. But let me be clear unless there is a clear issue(diagnosed by a medical doctor) that completely disrupts handwriting or speech, electronics need to be minimized as much as possible. Its easy to give someone on the Spectrum a electronic device and put them in the corner and be done with whatever issue they maybe experiencing, rather then put work and effort into trying to teach them basic skills.
Electronics do not teach someone how to communicate but rather just simple cause and effect. Like if I press this button this will happen, well what if the desired effect stops from happening what will happen? Probably just repetitive touching of the button till desired effect happens. They also may help with writing deficiencies, but hinder fine motor skill. Writing can increase fine motor skills and can help with future tasks such as driving and shaving, plus many more. However I see and hear time and time again to just give a kid on the Spectrum some electronic device. Thus why I am writing this post is because of a discussion I was a part of involving some kid with handwriting skills.
What do you think this tells that kid? Do you think they will want to face adversity and become a better person for it? What would you do if someone saw a deficit of yours and not only pointed it out for the world to see, but told you it was okay for you since your not going anywhere in life?
Mark Fleming- Person on the Autism Spectrum