Bedroom ideas for neurodiverse children
Managing sleep in neurodiverse children can be difficult, but with the right routine and bedroom environment, every child can enjoy their sleep.
Humans come in all shapes and sizes. Every one of us is different.
And beautifully so.
Our differences extend to our brains, where we’re all wired in an infinite number of ways.
In most children, that wiring is typical – which just means that, while still totally unique, they present behaviours that are expected, or typical for their stage of development.
Neurodiverse children may present only some of those behaviours – or all of them and more. They might have mixtures of different traits from a handful of known disorders. They might have invisible disabilities, mild and often masked symptoms – or anything in between.
When it comes to grey matter, there’s no black and white.
Typical, atypical, neurodiverse or otherwise, every single child is different. What matters is how they experience the world and relationships. In neurodiverse children, these experiences can often be very different.
Some disorders, like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are more prominent, and diagnoses are on the rise.
Managing sleep in children with ADHD and ASD can be difficult, but with the right routine and bedroom environment, every child can enjoy their sleep.
Let’s look at some brilliant bedroom ideas for neurodiverse children.
A bedroom for a child with ADHD
It’s common for children with ADHD to have sleep problems. They rarely fall asleep easily, sleep soundly through the night, nor wake up feeling refreshed.
A British study showed that more than half of kids with ADHD got up four times during the night. Almost half woke up before 6am. And 57% of their parents sleep less than six hours at night.
This is because many of the same regions of the brain regulate both ADHD and sleep. You can’t change your child’s brain, but you can help them sleep better.
Children with ADHD commonly show signs of distraction and disorganisation, forgetfulness and impulsiveness. Symptoms which are made worse by their sleep problems.
That usually results in a messy bedroom, where sleep becomes too difficult. It makes morning routines more difficult, too. Whole families can get caught up in the struggles of the all-too-common morning hurdles such as getting out of getting out of bed on time, getting dressed, and packing school bags. A time when symptoms are most severe for children with ADHD who are often extremely irritable when they wake up.
The key to a happy, sleepy bedroom for a child with ADHD? Simplicity.
All the mess caused by moving from toy to toy can impact mood, frustration and anxiety. To help calm those feelings, give objects a place everywhere in the home, not just in their bedroom.
Being spoiled for choice can be overwhelming, so try your best to simplify.
Declutter and store away anything that’s not needed to hand. Prioritise favourite toys, but only keep a handful out in their room at a time. Store away others, and rotate them every now and then to keep their interest.
Good storage is essential, with compartments to organise things. You don’t have to go totally sterile – you just need to get back to basics and remove visual distractions at bedtime that keep them from falling asleep. If your child can’t see their toys, they’re less likely to get out of bed to play with them. So, try to ensure that there’s not too much distraction in the bedroom, it should be a calm and relaxing place for your child to be during the night.
In contrast to the apparently chaotic behaviours that can be displayed, having a structured organisational method can actually help kids with ADHD to thrive and alleviate their more challenging symptoms.
It’s kind of important to lead by example, here – which can be hard if one or both parents have similar traits. Try to do it together, and start to form those habits in tune with your child.
Decorate for calm
A relaxing bedroom for ADHD is fairly simple to achieve. Usually, storage will do most of the work. But once you’ve decluttered, simplified and organised, it’s time to look at decorating.
Limit the artwork and wall decorations by chosing a few soothing pieces to create a calming bedroom to colour dreams.
Sleep hygiene training is recommended as a potential intervention. In other words, a routine. The best way to signal that it’s time for ADHD brains to slow down, is by using the hour or so leading up to bedtime to do a quiet, calm and relaxing activity.
Sleep expert Fay Smith of Little Dreams Consulting recommends a consistent bedtime routine:
Begin by turning off screens at least an hour before bed allowing the body to produce melatonin and there is some research that suggests children with neurodiversities may not produce enough melatonin or that for them it releases later in the evening. So, replace TV with calm activities like completing a puzzle together or colouring for that hour before bed, because hand-eye coordination is really good for relaxing the brain.
Fay recommends Relax Kids for amazing resources that can be included in your child’s bedtime routine, focused on mindfulness and tactile relaxation such as story massage, yoga stretching and other visualisation techniques.
This is also a good time to offer a sleepy snack such as bananas, almonds, cereal or wholemeal bread, because what we eat before bed can really influence sleep. Then finish up with a bath or shower to relax and unwind.
This whole routine should last no more than an hour. The time from getting in the bath to bed being no longer than 30 minutes.
You can also use visual clues to support your child’s understanding. These can help children when may find it difficult to manage change and process wheat is going to happen next during the bedtime routine A simple step-by-step timeline or table for each part can be really useful. And for younger children you can use pictures as cues for each step.
When you then tuck them up, try to make your child’s bedroom as dark as possible, in order to help the production of melatonin (the ‘sleepy hormone’). Although we know from experience that children with ADHD often suffer from anxieties or racing thoughts at bedtime, so this may not be possible or indeed help for all.
Autism bedroom ideas
ASD is just as complex and varied as ADHD, but there are some common difficulties among children with ASD when it comes to sleep.
Up to 80% of autistic preschool children have sleep difficulties, which are mainly linked to sensory issues. Hypersensitivity to light, sound or touch can make it really hard for children on the autistic spectrum to fall asleep and stay in bed.
A lack of sleep can make the features of autism appear worse – things like repetitive behaviours and social anxiety. This can turn into a vicious cycle, as one builds up the other.
So how can you help break the cycle?
Well, most of the time, good storage and calm in a bedroom will help a child with ASD as much as a child with ADHD, so that’s a start.
Then, you can move on to specific problem areas.
Sleep expert Fay Smith of Little Dreams Consulting recommends taking a good look at your child’s bedroom to assess whether it is a good environment to promote sleep and whether it meets their sensory needs:
Texture and touch are common sensory triggers for children with ASD. One of the most common problems comes from lumpy socks, which can be particularly distressing and uncomfortable – and that’s why seamless socks were invented.
The texture of pyjamas and bedding is important for the same reason. Weighted blankets and duvets give a sensation of substance, where lighter ones can feel annoying or even evoke feelings of disgust. These are helpful for children with ADHD too. Or those children presenting more than one neurodiverse condition.
Make sure you have plenty of smooth, bobble-free bed sheets made of pure cotton. Good quality, breathable cotton kids bedding will ensure maximum comfort, even with a thick and heavy duvet.
Sensory stimulation and processing are different for children with ASD, and something as simple as lighting can make some children feel overwhelmed. This can come down to details like the type of light bulb and the colour of the light it puts out.
In general, aim for softer lighting in bedrooms – from lamps rather than overhead lighting. Minimise reflective surfaces that can cause glare, and if you’re using a nightlight, evidence suggests that red hues are the best.
And when days are longer in the summer, blackout blinds or curtains are essential bedroom equipment. If light leaks through the edges, you might want to consider covering the window with blackout material.
This one’s hard to beat, because when the kids go to bed, adult life usually begins!
Staying silent isn’t easy. Some children with ASD might actually prefer to sleep with earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. Some might absolutely hate the sensation of them while trying to sleep.
There might be a compromise, or a workaround; like limiting your post-bedtime activities or maybe even swapping your kids’ bedrooms around.
Either way, it’s a tough nut to crack – but you could look into soundproofing for your child’s bedroom, as an extreme but permanent solution.
If you’re still struggling, sleep expert Fay suggests recording what is happening at night by using a sleep diary. This will help you to pick out any patterns in terms of daily activities and how they may correspond with better / tricker bedtimes and sleep.
Bedrooms for beautiful brains