Sleeping Difficulties and Your Child with SEN
It is no secret that children with SEN have a greater chance of having sleep difficulties.
In Neurotypical developing children the prevalence of sleep issues is around 40%.
Children with SEN however difficulties with sleep rise to around 86%, hence my passion in supporting these families with sleep.
So, what are the reasons for this huge rise in sleep difficulties for children with SEN?
For the last ten and a half years I have questioned this and the reasons for that huge increase. Now this is based purely on the families that I have supported but I do believe that having underlying medical issues particularly with digestion and epilepsy this can have a huge impact on sleep, add on to that the commonality of sensory issues and communication barriers both verbal and understanding it is no surprise that we see a big jump in the percentage.
I think it is important to also recognise the immense strain that many of the families are under with several professionals supporting them at any one time, meetings, and appointments to attend. The thought of adding yet another professional into the mix feels far too overwhelming.
Sleep services are also a postcode lottery with very few localities offering this specialism as an integral service.
Since I qualified as a sleep practitioner for children with SEN back in 2011, I think parents are also really scared that sleep advice will be too structed and too demanding on parents ultimately leading to failure and an increase in behaviour.
It’s not all about having a routine and using a rigid technique at bedtime itself, although I think this is what many parents fear it will be.
How can we support families with sleep for their child with SEN?
Behavioural sleep support for children with SEN has been vastly researched and evaluated. A behavioural approach can improve a child’s sleep by up to 2.4hours per night. This is huge!
I think the number one thing to consider is that often sleep difficulties are a result of a learned habit or habits that snowball very quickly thus resulting in many families feeling the effects of sleep deprivation.
Speaking to a specialist and looking at a sleep plan in steppingstones rather than a strict timetable of things that you must do can make the whole task feel simpler.
Having a starting point and focussing on one area at a time can feel less overwhelming.
Assessing your child and your family circumstances also. It is important that the plan is something that you feel confident implementing.
Not something that you see as an uphill chore.
Sleep habits are one of the most common things that impact on sleep leading to sleep deprivation, having a child with SEN many parents feel that poor sleep is just part and parcel, when in fact there is so much that can be done to help to change sleep habits that help to promote good sleep.
How can we help children with SEN to sleep better?
So having a comprehensive approach that factors in your child and your child’s needs.
Considering all their needs be it sensory, physical, or behavioural.
Having worked specifically with families and children with SEN I understand the tremendous strain that parents can be under. Therefore, more than ever any changes should be made gradually, and no additional stress added to families.
I look at the science,
· How can we help to increase melatonin?
· How can we support the circadian rhythm?
· What kind of routine will work for this family?
· How can we support night waking’s whilst supporting and protecting parents sleep?
· How can we help to extend sleep so that families aren’t starting their day at 4am?
This is a process and sometimes a more gradual approach is necessary in the early stages so that everyone is getting protected sleep enabling families to be able to function.
Does it really work?
I just want to share here a review that I received from one of the families that I have supported
It’s like magic.
So, after many nights crying because I was so tired and a 4year old son who could not maintain sleep, I was recommended Kerry. I was very sceptical after being let down by other sleep specialist in the past, but out of desperation I contacted Kerry who was very understanding, after talking to her she believed she could help our son. our little boy has autism, epilepsy as well as other complex needs. He would wake up early hours (1-1.30am) in the morning and stay wide awake for hours. he would always be ready for the day by 4/5am every morning.
Kerry talked me through what to do and changes to make in his room. the first night was very hard and I thought that it was a mistake. but by the second night he slept right the way through. each day has gotten better. he has had one early morning (5am) in the past week but mostly sleeping through till 6-7.30 with no waking during the night.
it’s a working progress but going from a full night’s sleep 1/2 nights a month to nearly a whole week of sleep has been great. Will be even better once I can learn to switch off and get a whole night sleep. honestly Kerry you have changed our lives. I'm hoping this will continue xx