We all know that neurodivergent children can have particular sleep and settling difficulties, including irregular sleeping and waking patterns – for example, lying awake until very late or waking very early in the morning, sleeping much less than expected for their age, or being awake for more than an hour during the night.
As such, our neurodivergent kids find comfort in co-sleeping with us in our rooms. However, a 2018 study revealed that moms who co-slept with their kids that perpetually woke or disruptively moved around lost an average of 51 minutes of sleep per night, and had higher reported levels of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Continued co-sleeping with your neurodivergent child affects him/her later. Studies have found that co-sleeping during school-aged years can lead to difficulties with initiating sleep, less nighttime sleeping, somnolence during the day, bedtime refusal, frequent nocturnal rousings, and high levels of sleep distress.
For your neurodivergent child, this stage of ending the co-sleeping habit with parents is one of the first steps of many that they need to do in their life to become independent and self-reliant.
In this article, I have shared the step-by-step process of ending co-sleeping with your child in your room.
Step #1: Make your neurodivergent child comfortable in his room by staying during the day in his room and play in his room
Get your neurodivergent child comfortable and used to staying in his room during his waking hours and in the daytime. Our aim is to make him like staying in his own room. Play with him, bathe him, and hug and kiss him there too. If it is his first time sleeping alone in this unfamiliar room, he needs some form of positive reinforcement to venture there like buying him some fun new toys to play with or checking some books at the library of stories he might find interesting. However, if your child is already playing and/or napping in his own room, you may skip this step altogether.
Step #2: Let your neurodivergent child nap in his own room
Help your child get accustomed to taking his naps inside his own room. At first, you may find yourself lying beside him on his bed to help him fall asleep but you may do this for 2 -3 days but no longer than that as it will be hard for your child to sleep on his own. You can bring some chairs in so you can sit beside his bed but maintain a neutral presence. Then slowly, move your chair away each day you try to make him feel more comfortable napping in his own bed.
Step #3: For a few days, co-sleep in your child’s room
When you and your child are ready for the night training - and it will be clear; we're talking days or weeks, not months - you should start The Sleep Lady Shuffle, with one extra preliminary phase:
Spend up to three nights sleeping in your neurodivergent child's room to create a bridge between the family bed and independent sleep.
Throw a mattress on the floor, drag in the guest bed, and pile up some sleeping bags -- whatever is safe and comfortable for both of you to sleep on.
You'll be surprised how much better this makes everything!
Step #4: Start the “Chair Method”
This is also commonly known as the “Sleep Lady Shuffle' or 'Camping Out', this method involves having your neurodivergent child down to bed completely awake and then placing a chair beside his bed.
From the chair, you are able to verbally reassure your neurodivergent child, pat and shush your child intermittently if he is very upset.
You will stay in the room until your child is asleep and return to the chair if he wakes up throughout the night.
Every 2-3 nights, you would move the chair further and further away from the bed until your child is falling asleep without you in the room.
Although this method is considered to be a 'gentle' parenting approach, it can be a challenging experience for you as a parent. You have to stay in your child's room while he is crying, trying your best not to intervene too much.
This is an ideal solution for parents who want to transition their child from their bed to a separate one. It's also useful for toddlers who have grown accustomed to having a parent lay beside them until they drift off.
If a particular method is gentle and non-invasive, it will take more time to see the desired results. Generally, it may take up to two weeks for the full effects to be noticed. It is important to remember that each child's situation is different.
Co-sleeping with a neurodivergent child can be a rewarding experience for both parent and child. It can provide comfort and security to the child while giving the parent an opportunity to better understand their child’s needs.
However, it is important to remember that co-sleeping should not be continued indefinitely, and parents should gradually transition their children to sleeping on their own.
With patience and consistency, parents can help their children develop healthy sleep habits that will benefit them in the long run.
It is important to seek professional help from a sleep consultant if you are struggling with how to end co-sleeping with your neurodivergent child. They can provide advice and guidance on how best to approach the situation and ensure that both you and your child get the restful sleep that you need. With their help, you can find the best solution for ending co-sleeping in order to promote healthy sleep habits for both of you.