There is no secret in the fact that children with SEN have a larger chance of having sleep problems. The prevalence of sleep issues is around 40% in Neurotypical developing children.
However, sleep difficulties rise to around 86% in children with SEN, which is what ignited my passion for helping and supporting families with their sleep problems.
The question is, what are the reasons behind the huge rise in sleep difficulties for children with SEN?
I have been questioning this for the past 10 and a half years and l believe I have identified some of the issues behind it. To clarify, this is purely based on the families l have supported over the years, however I do believe that having underlying health conditions, particularly with epilepsy and digestion, actually have a big impact on sleep. Add a sensory issue and a communication barrier (both verbal and/or understanding) on top of that and there is no surprise that there is a huge increase of the percentage of problem sleepers.
I think it is important to also acknowledge the immense strain that many families are under with several professions supporting them at one time, with meetings and appointments to attend. The idea of adding another professional into the mix may feel too overwhelming.
In addition to that, sleep services are a postcode lottery with very few local authorities offering this specialism as an integral service.
Since l qualified as a sleep practitioner for children with SEN back in 2011, l think parents are fearful that sleep advice will be too structured and demanding on them and ultimately lead to failure an increase in behaviour.
Let me tell you that in reality it is not all about having a rigid technique at bedtime itself, although I think this is what many parents think it will be.
So, how can we support families with sleep problems?
Behavioural sleep support for children with SEN has been extensively researched and evaluated. A behavioural approach can improve a child’s sleep by up to 2.4 hours per night. This is colossal!
I believe that the main 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.
What are the best ways to 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 get results?
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”
You can find Kerry over at…