Visuals for Sleep Training

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When teaching families of kids with special needs, the number one question that comes up is this:

“Will my child understand what we’re trying to do?”

The answer: you bet. But, you have to make it abundantly clear what is going on.

In all of my programs, I teach parents the importance of visuals. This is a great way to teach a child with special needs a new routine. For many kids, hearing and understanding is an issue. Having a picture or a visual of what is expected helps to get the message across. And, the added bonus is that it helps parents stay on track as well.

Here are the top visuals I encourage all my families to use

Clock faces

Now, you don’t have to teach how the clock works, the difference between the hour and minute hands. But, you do want your child to know when bedtime is, and when it’s time to wake up.

I recommend making individual images of what the clock looks like when it’s time to get ready for bed and what time to wake up. To make it easier, you can simply teach your child the hour number to look for.

Image result for digital alarm clock face

For example, if your family starts their morning at 7am and your child wakes up way before this, show your child the number 7. Put a clock in your child’s room and teach them that when the 7 comes up, it’s time to leave their room.

The same can be done when it’s time to start your child’s bedtime routine.

If this seems too abstract for your child, you always have the option of using a clock that changes colors. The Mirami Okay to Wake Clock is a very easy-to-use clock that turns green when it’s morning time.


If you want to end bedtime battles, having a bedtime routine checklist is your saving grace. A checklist is a very clear way to show your child what the bedtime routine is and will make it easier for them to settle when the lights are off.

For many kids with special needs, falling asleep easily is a big struggle. Having a consistent routine is a great way to cue their brain and body to settle to sleep. The checklist helps to keep things predictable and allows the whole family to follow the steps the same way each and every night.

And get specific in your checklist – write that 1 book will be read before bedtime (not 10). If your child is impossible to get out of the tub, put a time limit on it (and use a timer). The clearer that you can be, the better!

Here’s a very basic example of the bedtime routine checklist:

A bedtime book

If you want your child to go to sleep easily and ideally on their own, a bedtime book is a great tool. A bedtime book outlines exactly what you expect from your child. For example, if you want your child to stop leaving their room 10 times a night, write a book about it! Tell your child what happens when they leave the room, and how you will handle it.

For some children, they are fearful going to sleep at night. Write a book about how everything is safe and there’s nothing to fear.

For kids with special needs, this is a game changer. I’ve had family after family write me to say that their child was falling asleep faster, and actually LOVED their bedtime book. And it’s because parents outlined exactly what to expect…and stuck with it!

That’s what your child needs.

Remember, make your child’s bedtime book personal – it’s for them anyway, right? Many families will take pictures of their child doing their routine, staying in bed, etc. and add this to the book. Clip art from Google works just as well.

When writing your book, try and keep text and images separate. This helps to keep your child’s focus on the page and what you’re saying, and not the picture. And, make sure that pictures illustrate your point after it’s made.

These are very simple to implement tools to help your child get a better night’s rest. Visuals are a small, but important part of changing any child’s sleep for the better.

If you are struggling to get your child with special needs to sleep well, Melissa Doman and her team are here to help!

Melissa creates customized sleep plans for kids with ASD, ADD/ADHD, Trisomy 21, Cerebral palsy, and other developmental diagnoses. Book a call with us to learn how her program can help your child.