Hi, I've been here before and I'll be here again!
We are getting desperate to get our DS sleeping on his own. DH was actually tearing up today describing how he feels about having to stay in bed with our DS, aged 3. He feels like he is in an abusive relationship at night, being held hostage. He can't get up to pee, can't move or shift position, can't get under the blanket, often has to sleep with a pretty bright night light and music playing- all so DS will stay in bed and sleep. And even then, he still wakes screaming sometimes. We need to change this- it's gotten out of hand! I want my husband back and I don't want him feeling this way.
DH started sleeping with DS to get him out of our bed when I was pregnant and DS was crowding and kicking my belly. Now I have the baby in a sidecarred crib. We want DH back in bed with me and DS sleeping in his room.
Right now, DH (sometimes me) will lay with DS for up to an hour to get him to sleep then sneak out for a couple of hours of adult time in the evenings. This takes less time when DS hasn't napped so we try to not nap him as often as possible but some days he needs it or he is just a mess. DS will sometimes sleep for a number of hours until DH goes in with him for the night or sometimes he will barge out of his room screaming and DH will go in. Sometimes he throws a huge fit, sometimes he will go instantly back to sleep.
When DH sleeps with him, as I said, DS demands that he stay in the same position, they can't use a blanket and DH can't leave or he'll wake and freak out and potentially have an hour long tantrum.
We just can't continue this way. I really feel like what was once a genuine need has turned into a controlling manipulative behaviour and I'm at a loss as to how to end it. It is totally ridiculous and unacceptable that we let our DS treat my DH this way- I'm embarrassed and so sad about it. We're just at a loss as to how to start making a change- no doubt it will be the start of many sleepless nights, tantrums, tears, frustration and anger. For EVERYONE.
Anyone been through anything like this? How do we get out of this mess?
(I should add that DS has very mild autism with symptoms and behaviours that seem to be present one day and absent the next and generally are getting better with time. We've tried to figure out if his behaviour at night is related- sensory problems, etc- but I really don't think it is.)
In your situation, I believe I'd bring your son in on the decision-- not for consultation, but talk frankly with him about how the situation doesn't work, and what you will do to fix it. I'd begin by saying that dad isn't sleeping well and hasn't been for awhile, and needs to sleep with out a child in the bed in order to sleep better.
If there were money to do so (and space), I'd set up a bed for him in his own room, with son's help to set up and furnish the bed. I'd also create a place on the floor of my room for him to come if he felt that he'd be more comfortable in the room with parents.
Your son will probably have the tantrums you are expecting. Since you know it's going to happen, let it be.
"I know you're angry. I'm sorry, but you cannot share a bed with dad anymore. You can sleep in your bed or on the floor of our room. Your choice." You are going to have to create new habits, and it might be messy, but you've pointed out that the situation isn't working for either you or your husband, and I suspect it isn't working for your son either, if you consider the long term.
Kids with autism have a notoriously hard time with sleep. I have read many, many studies on the safe use of melatonin to help that. The hour it takes to get him to sleep is so familiar. There is an amazing liquid melatonin that saved our sanity, its called Natrol. I like the liquid because you can control how much you give. I would start with .5 and go up to 1 mg if it doesn't work. This made my then 2 yr old go from talking an hour and 45 minutes to settle to sleep to being out like a light in 20. AMAZING! It also allowed him to continue his daytime napping and still be able to sleep at night, something that was really important. Check with your ped to be sure its ok for your situation, but nothing I read scared me away from it and the good it did for him and us was way beyond any risks in my opinion.
I think getting his sleep regulated would solve alot of the problems. Keep in mind that with autism their emotional maturity is lagging behind, around 1/3 their actual age. So his ability to get himself to sleep and deal with his worries and fears is more like a typical 1 yr old than a 3 yr old. Keeping that "adjusted age" in mind helps me be more patient with behaviors I wish were long over! Maybe that can help your DH? I would suggest you work gradually on getting his sleep regulated with the melatonin and then slowly adjust his bedtime "ritual" so that it is more comfortable with DH. Pick one issue at a time and work on it. Maybe its that Daddy gets a blanket. Once he's adjusted to that, maybe next would be, music is turned softer (or maybe he could wear headphones? My ASD kids have done that when they have shared a room and one wanted music to fall asleep to and another didn't). Sticker charts for a "good night" where he can get a special treat or breakfast in the morning might be a motivator. Its hard with sleep issues because you usually want to reward instantly for these kids but the result of them complying is hopefully sleep so it doesn't work very well. But you can try making a connection between good bedtime behavior and something fun to look forward to in the morning and see if it clicks. Hopefully he will zonk out fast enough it won't be such a struggle. Good luck!
BTDT. Including the abusive relationship-feeling (in our case, hitting, hair yanking, bone grinding...), also including the oddly fluctuating autistic traits. I highly suggest crossposting this in special needs parenting (and possibly parenting the gifted child, IIRC), if you haven't done so yet. IME, the usual stuff (explaining, waiting out tantrums, letting DS help set up the bed etc.) won't work. Call in the experts! (And I don't mean me, there's people around with lots more experience you need to draw on, just as I did).
Because this is a problem that will probably need a lot of time and work, I'd try to pick my battles, working on what needs to change first because you cannot take it anymore. Possibly that would be getting him to sleep in the first place, rather than getting him out of the bedroom. He may have an easier time going to sleep and staying asleep in a sidecarred crib on your husbands side of the bed, or maybe a mattress on the floor.
I have not tried melatonin personally, simply because it happens not to be legal for kids where I live. Possibly you are facing similar problems. How about supplements? For us, magnesium was the wonder drug. magnesium citrate is supposed to have the best bio-availability, but magnesium oxide worked for us as well. In powder form (capsules or straight from a can) it is easy to hide in something slightly acidic like yoghurt, apple sauce or orange juice. I'd start out with 200mg and go up in steps of 50 mg until you see a result or until he develops diarrhea. Also, these kids tend to be deficient in zinc. You can also try fish oil, hasn't worked so well for us, others swear by it, we just do it anyway.
I would also try to figure out his sensory needs - if he has autistic traits which fluctuate and is (IIRC, I may be getting you mixed up with someone else) gifted, it is highly likely that he has some sensory quirks, and hating that blanket and needing the music and the light might be one manifestiation of them. DS1 liked baths and back rubs and a chew toy to find sleep. It helped promising him a minute of back rubs for five minutes of not pulling (twisting, yanking, chewing on, tearing out) my hair - if you find his sensory "currency", that may help with the delayed reward problem.
DD isn't that bad, and DS2 is a great sleeper, but still my Kindle paperwhite has been a godsend against that "hostage" feeling. If you can get your DS to accept him reading as he falls asleep, that may help everyone relax.