On the Horizon – 11/5/13

Welcome to "On the Horizon"

Issue 230: Developing a Sleep Schedule That Works

On the Horizon is an award winning weekly ezine for parents of children with developmental disabilities who want simple, effective strategies to reduce stress, support their child’s development, and improve quality of life for the whole family.

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  • A Note from Dr. Beurkens
  • Feature Article: Developing a Sleep Schedule That Works
  • Ask the Horizons Team
  • Upcoming Events
  • Recommended Resources

Hi Everyone!

We had a fun Halloween around here last week with lots of costumes, games, and special treats! You can see some pictures of the kids and fun on our Facebook page here. My own kids dressed up and braved the cold wet weather for a while to trick-or-treat. I was glad they didn’t want to stay out too long given the nasty weather!

This week’s feature article by Michelle is about helping kids sleep better. Sleep is a challenge for many of the children and families we serve, and this article provides some excellent starting points to address this important issue. When kids aren’t sleeping well they can’t learn and develop well, so if you have a child or student who struggles in this area it is critical to address it. The Q&A this week is about providing downtime for students during the school day, and what to do when a student wants to stim during his breaks. I hope you find the information helpful!

Make it a great week!

Looking to the horizon,

Developing a Sleep Schedule That Works

By Michelle VanderHeide, LLBSW

Child at bedtime "I just want to have a quiet evening! Why won’t you just go to sleep?!?" Do you ever have those nights? Maybe this is your night every night! Whatever the situation, it makes life much more stressful when you are tired and can’t get your child or children to fall asleep and sleep well! Rest assured, you can have more relaxed evenings and get your household the way it was intended to be – kids in their own beds, at a reasonable time, for the duration of night.

In my several years of working with families, many different situations have arisen. Keep this simple acronym in your head to ensure a good night’s S.L.E.E.P.

Schedule: The most important thing you can do is develop a good bedtime routine. About an hour before bedtime (which should be the same time every night), begin calming your child with regulating activities. Maybe you would like to read books, take a walk, or play a quiet, noncompetitive game. Then go through the normal bedtime routine: get pajamas on, brush teeth etc. Once you have your child in bed, take a few minutes to help your child relax. Maybe read another book, or tell a story. Some kids calm quickly to touch, heavy pressure, or a head rub once they are in bed.

Click here to read the rest of this article…


I heard you speak at a seminar recently and you talked about the importance of students with neurodevelopmental disorders having downtime during the day, including at school. I have been incorporating more downtime into the day for my students, especially after more challenging activities, and it seems to be helping them stay more calm and focused. However, I have one student who spends his entire downtime stimming with his hands, pacing, and flapping items. I’m not sure if I should allow him to do this, or if I should try to stop him and make him do something else during this time. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

-Jill in Palatine, IL


Hi Jill,

I’m so glad you are finding that incorporating some downtime into the school day is helping your students. It is so important to allow students, especially those with processing challenges, to decompress and avoid constant overwhelm. My philosophy about downtime (or breaks) is to allow students to do what is regulating for them, as long as it does not cause a problem for themselves or anyone else. Often students with neurodevelopmental issues engage in self-stimulatory behaviors in order to reduce stress and regulate their processing systems. As long as your student does this in a way that doesn’t disrupt or upset others than I would allow him to do it. If he is creating disruptions for the other students then you may need to look at appropriate locations or times for him to take his breaks; or guide him to other activities that may be calming to him but less disruptive to others.

While your question did not specifically ask about this, I want to also mention that allowing students to engage with electronics/screens during their entire break time is not productive. While many students may prefer to do this, the reality is that electronics (iPads, computers, video games, television, etc.) can be over-stimulating. Rather than allowing the brain to take a break and the nervous system to settle down, constant electronic use can make the student more likely to have difficulties when they return to learning activities after the break. Some break time spent on electronics may be appropriate, but it should be limited (and eliminated altogether if it is not working for a specific student).

Great question and way to go implementing new ideas with your students!

Dr. Beurkens

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Upcoming dates and locations where Nicole Beurkens, PhD will be speaking:

Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Practical Strategies to Improve Processing

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