Sleep Support For Families Of Children With Autism Wins National Award

10/10/2016 16:35

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the world is finally waking up to the importance of sleep to support children's well-being. I'm delighted to tell you that my belief in this has been further supported over the last few days after The Children's Sleep Charity won their first national award.

The Nursery World Awards celebrate best practice in the early years sector. A large number of entries are received across the 26 categories.This year a new award was added for children's health and well-being to highlight organisations who work impressively in this area and it was with utter shock that our name was called out to collect the trophy.

I say shock, not because I feel that we weren't worthy winners but I was really genuinely surprised that the judging panel recognised the importance of sleep for supporting children's well-being. A sleep deprived child simply cannot meet their full potential and yet sleep is so often missed off the well-being agenda.

While it was a great honour to lift the trophy and celebrate our work, more importantly it is has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to further educate people about the importance of sleep and the impact of sleep deprivation, not only on child development but also on family units.

It was our work with families of children with autism that earned us the award. Many of the families we work alongside are in crisis. Relationships have broken down, employment has been lost, finances are affected and they don't know where to turn to help.

We were fortunate to gain funding from NHS England to pilot our project idea. Our aim was to use a behavioural approach to sleep to support families in partnership with families. We set up a steering group so that we could find out what families actually wanted, all too services are provided based on what professionals 'think' families want. The outcome of the steering group led us to develop workshops where families could meet others in a similar situation, it was very clear that many families feel very isolated if they aren't getting a good night's sleep.

The steering group were consulted as we developed our new materials. We asked for guidance on every aspect of our work to ensure that we used a true partnership approach. It was important to us to find out what time of day best suited families, the format that the materials should take and the level of support they would like to access following our intervention.

Ten workshops were carried out in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and we reached 56 parents and 76 practitioners. The workshops provided the families with information around sleep cycles, why sleep issues may occur, how to develop a good bedtime routine as well as focusing on creating a calm bedroom environment. Feedback from the pilot showed that using a behavioural approach to sleep can significantly improve children's sleep patterns.

Outcomes reported by families who took part included; improved family relationships, calmer daytime behavior, improved attainment in school and more confidence in parenting skills.

One mother shared "Our lives have changed so much now we can relax at night time and get some sleep." Another said, "We are not exhausted wrecks anymore. We aren't arguing as much and our son seems happier in himself."

Unfortunately our very restricted funding means that we can only support a limited number of families at the moment and demand for our services is at an all time high. We continue to work hard generating income streams through offering training to professionals in order to embed our service nationally and hope that with increased awareness around the importance of sleep funding will come our way very soon!

Find out more about our work