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    From Sleeping in to Prepping for School: Strategies for Avoiding Wake-up Wars

    Topics: Autism & Transitions, Advice for Parents and Caregivers, Elementary (4-12), Teen (13-17), Young Adult (18-21), Articles

    One mother’s tried and true recommendations for helping your child with autism get ready for an early wake up time once school starts.

    Are you dreading your "au-some" child's first week back to school because he or she is used to sleeping in now? Are you wondering how they will shift their sleeping habits back to normal? I believe I have an answer to your conundrum...


    Weekly Time Adjustments 

    boy-under-covers-waking-upWith the imminent return of "back-to-school week one," something my mother-in-law has taught me is to wake our son, Jim, slightly earlier each week. For example, I am currently looking at about a half hour drop per week. What that looks like at the moment is a wake-up time of approximately 8:00 a.m. The “bulls-eye” for us will be 6:30.

    To start with, I think a good question to ask ourselves is, "How much of a weekly dock in time would benefit our family toward the final goal of that new wake-up time?"

    One hour?

    A half hour?

    You, as the parent or care giver, can decide what is right for your child based on certain observations you will have made along the way. The following strategies should be of assistance to you while you navigate the process:


    Balance is Key

    I am not sure if it is due to the unprecedented five months of time off or what it is, but the transition for our son seems harder this time. For instance, after just a few days of waking Jim at 8:00, he started pinching, shoving and scowling at me the moment I asked him to do a small task (and he kept wanting to lie down and sleep during the day). However, after making certain considerations, I decided I was probably trying too hard to drill the new timeframe into his routine.

    So I eased off a bit. By that time, it was the weekend...What child...what person would not want a whole day of rest after waking up at an earlier time and following a schedule all week?

    The adjustment worked great! Jim got a whole afternoon of computer games, and by Sunday morning, he woke up happy and as cooperative as he has ever been. It just proves yet again that balance is a big key to a stable life--not to mention, a cooperative child.


    Plan Fun Visits or Activities

    I have noticed that when I make plans for Jim to receive "Grandpa's waffles with whipped cream," the young man cannot wait to jump out of bed and go to my parents’ for breakfast. Can you blame him? 

    Yesterday morning, I took him to a local park where we discovered in a secluded creek submerged rocks that formed a small bridge. They were nestled between an old bridge and a protrusion with countless little waterfalls. It was so calming for him to just splash and throw stones; I think especially because he loves water. I took a snapshot of the spot and aim to use that as a future motivator for wake-up time. 




    Feel free to snap pictures of what is in store for your child; or if you have the energy, create a social story of what lies ahead. It does not have to be complicated though. Just go at your own pace. And perhaps there is someone who would enjoy assisting you on making a particular idea a reality.

    Just remember to keep communicating the event to your child, so when morning comes and you remind them of what is coming, they are more likely to hurry out of bed. These kids love a heads ups; not only for security reasons, but also because it helps them remember why they are making their weary selves go mobile so early!


    Offer a Desired Item

    Perhaps your child loves music, as our Jim does. I have often selected for Jim a favorite song on You Tube. As a result, he often comes racing down the steps to hear it better. Voila! The child is awake and breakfast is served. 

    At other times, if he has been harder to rouse, I take the laptop up to his bed, give him a “sample” of whichever tune, and that motivates him. Maybe your child has a favorite spot in an animated movie that would quickly revive him or her! Just be sure they do not have the tendency to perseverate on (in this case, repeatedly play) such things, as that can create some negative behaviors afterward. 

    Bringing a sample of breakfast, or a snapshot of it, may work too. At the autism program where I worked (S.A.I.L. of Toledo, Ohio--now closed), food samples became a helpful tool for me and my colleagues with one child who had otherwise resisted attending meals.


    Consider a Quiet-Ticking Timer

    Many of our children with autism may also perseverate on sounds like the ticker in a timer. This could unfortunately create a distraction from your child's brand new school schedule. But Stages Learning features a quieter option--the "Time Timer." At the same time, it boasts a visual way to measure how much time remains before they need to shower or conduct whichever part of the morning you wish to target. As many of us already know, kids with autism frequently bend toward visual learning anyway; so this product may be worth considering for any time you are prepping them for back-to-school.



    An example of using the Time Timer might look like this:

    (Parent): "Tommy, you have five minutes before you need to wake up for school. See the red on the dial? When the red is all gone, then it's time to shower, ok?"


    Keep Making Attempts at Consistency

    Likely, these earlier wake-up calls will present challenges. In fact, one day recently, our son awoke at 10:30 (we all slept poorly)! That was ok for the start of August, but back to school is drawing closer all the time. No doubt continued efforts to rouse our children at earlier time-frames is in our best interest. However, if we occasionally miss the bulls-eye, I find no reason to berate ourselves but rather celebrate the progress we have made!


    In Conclusion

    As we work incrementally toward establishing a punctual school morning routine, we can see that ways exist to help us gain more of our child’s cooperation. For we parents and caregivers, such a payoff can only translate to peace of mind and a good feeling of accomplishment. And for our special kids, that means a happier start to the school year.


    (If you have questions or concerns about such matters, contact me on my Facebook site, "Autism Hopefuls." I am happy to help a fellow "au-some" parent or caregiver!)

    Heidi Ellis

    Written by Heidi Ellis

    Heidi Ellis is a graduate of the University of Toledo with a BA in foreign languages (Spanish). Using ABA training, she instructed young children with autism at S.A.I.L (School for Autistically Impaired Learners) in Toledo, OH (now closed). She also taught E.S.O.L. (English for Speakers of Other Languages) to adults at a career center in Rossford, OH. Her own son, Jim, now twenty-two, was diagnosed with the condition at a young age. Heidi is now a freelance writer, which includes a number of Stages Learning articles. She also blogs on Facebook at her page titled, “Autism Hopefuls: Hope for the Autism Parent.” Heidi’s passion is to bring both navigational tools and moral support to parents and care givers of children with autism. She aims to soon have published her first devotional book written specifically for “au-some” parents.