This post was written by my wife, Natalie, and editted by me, Stuart. This is, in her words, how Cameron’s very first sleepover went and how she handled issues when/as they came up.
We autism parents envy other parents for a lot of reasons. One of the biggest reasons can best be demonstrated by… the sleep over.
We all want our children to have them. Autism parents have to wonder if it’ll even be possible though. Depending on where our children are on the spectrum, it might just not be a possibility. For those with children who are ready for social play, sleepovers are possible but they’re still not without their challenges.
As a parent, there are a lot of questions that come up with this subject; Is my child old enough? Will his routine be followed? Will he need me for anything? What if he’s up too late? Should the first sleep over be in our home or at a friends? And the list goes on.
We are very lucky with Cameron. He has friends, he can communicate quite well and can even be social (albeit awkwardly, but still social). This particular friend just loves him and does not see Cameron’s autism as an issue for their friendship. We cannot begin to tell you how blessed we feel to be able to say that!
But with all that being said, a sleepover between a neurotypical child and an autistic child (and let’s not forget the little brother too!) has its challenges.
A sleepover is a time of excitement, yummy foods mommy usually doesn’t allow, staying up late, pillow fights and tons of fun. That can be over stimulating for any child. It can cause a child to become hyper active or even careless. But in the case of an autistic child, well most of you know it can turn ugly, very quickly.
Tantrums, stimming, screaming and hitting are just some of the issues that can come up.
So how do we, as parents, prepare for an event like this while still keeping it as normal as possible? I need to pause here and explain what I mean by “normal“.
Cameron will read books, watch tv and hear stories about holidays or things like sleepovers and based on those, he will have a concrete set of rules for how these holidays and events should be.
Before we even broach the subject of a sleepover, he already has a list ready of things that need to happen from what he’s seen and read. So changing out something, like popcorn for a fruit snack, would be completely out of the question.
The sleepover: Before bed
We decided the best approach would be to have the friend stay with us for the sleepover, rather than have Cameron sleep out. Special diet, routines and techniques to ease Cameron’s anxiety are too much to throw at another parent for one night.
When Cameron’s friend showed up, Cameron (and Tyler) greeted him happily at the door. They watched a movie, played games and with toys, had time for a video game (Mario Party 9 was a big hit) and enjoyed some yummy snacks (popcorn).
So far, so good! No meltdowns and everyone was getting along and playing nicely. A huge success all around.
The sleepover: Time for bed
We set the boys up so that all 3 could sleep in one room. Cameron was in his bed, his friend was in Tyler’s bed and Tyler was on the floor, using couch cushions. All of the boys were tucked in for the night and going well.
We got that wonderful feeling of relief when we were able to put our feet up and call it a success.
However, that feeling did not last long.
His friend kept calling us into the bedroom saying things like “Cameron is too noisy!” and “Cameron won’t stop talking!” I knew what the problem was, but I wasn’t quite sure how to address it.
You see, Cameron has to “stim” before going to sleep each night. We’re not sure why exactly, he just needs it. Either it settles his mind, or he just needs to get it out of his system… we don’t see the harm in it so long as he sleeps.
If I took Cameron out of the room would the friend be upset? Would Cameron be upset? Would they sleep?
I asked Cameron to come out of the room and talk to me. I talked to him about falling asleep in our bed and then later having Daddy put him back into his bed. That way he can still wake up with his friend in the morning. I also asked the friend if it would be ok for him to fall asleep with Tyler and not Cameron.
Everyone agreed! (a miracle right?)
I explained to Cameron that stimming before bed (which he does every night, no exceptions) was ok, but it was keeping the friend awake. If he sleeps in our room he can stim as long as he needs to.
We’re lucky to have Tyler. He often acts as a buffer for Cameron, helping him in ways I’m not even sure they notice yet.
In our case we were able to reason with Cameron, talk out the situation and come to a solution together. We’re very lucky to be able to do this with a 6yr old, especially one who is autistic
We now know what issues may arise if Cameron were to ever be asked to sleep out of the home. We’ll know what to expect and how to prepare the parents.
Don’t be afraid to let your child try new things. Sometimes it may not go so well while other times they may surprise you! But you won’t know what your child is capable of if you never let them try.
We were pleasantly surprised and will now be even more prepared for the next sleepover.