Teens On the Autism Spectrum Who Have Serious Problems Getting Up In the Morning

Hello Mark,

I recently purchased your eBook "Launching Adult Children w/Aspergers" ...It's nicely laid out/a very useful tool indeed! I do have a question for you:

My son and I had a heart-to-heart conversation last night, as a result of getting into an altercation with him one morning. I'm beginning to understand his thoughts/ways more and more. I realize that 'patience' is a must and as you stated it is important to keep one thing at the fore-front of our minds...."Everyone has good intentions!" These kids do not do things to deliberately send our emotions reeling/upset us. With all of that said, my son has great difficulty getting up on time in the morning and as a result he doesn't get to eat breakfast and prepare his lunch before departing. As a Mom I get upset w/him, concerned about his well-being; he is quite thin to begin with. He told me last night that he doesn't want any help from us that he has to be the one to solve his own problem. I was actually shocked w/what he said, however, my concern is that he will not get up for school or will miss the bus, which would not make for a good morning/I would end up being late for work. I will obviously respect his wishes/not interfere, however, my intuition tells me that he will not wake up on time and actually be missing the bus. What course of action would I then take, assuming his best efforts result in failure? I do not want to get confrontational with my son and do more harm. How can I motivate him to get up if he doesn't wake up with the alarm clock going off...??

Do I take away his IPOD/DS Game/TV privileges for an indefinite period of time...? Appreciate your thoughts on the matter. Thanks! L.


Hi L.

Re: Do I take away his IPOD/DS Game/TV privileges for an indefinite period of time...?

Before we have the conversation about consequences for non-compliance as it relates to waking up, let’s look at some things that may help other than disciplinary strategies. “Having difficulty getting up in the morning” is more of a “life-style” and “biological” issue rather than a “behavioral problem” per say.

Before adolescence, circadian rhythms (i.e., the biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of a 24-hour internal clock) direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teenager's internal clock, delaying the time he starts feeling sleepy (often until 11 p.m. or later). Staying up late to study or socialize or surf the Internet can disrupt a teenager's internal clock even more.

Most teenagers and young adults need about nine hours of sleep a night — and sometimes more — to maintain optimal daytime alertness. But few teenagers actually get that much sleep due to part-time jobs, homework, extra-curricular activities, social demands, early-morning classes, and so on.

Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What time does his bus/ride come or how long does it take to walk to school?
  • What privilege would he like to earn when he is able to get up on time on his own for the week (e.g., an hour added to curfew on Friday or Saturday night)?
  • What is the last possible moment he can get up and still make it to school on time?
  • What consequence should you impose if you have to wake him up at that last possible moment (e.g., no computer for that day)?
  • How much time does he need to get ready?

The answers to these questions should help the two of you come up with a reasonable “lights out” time.

Other points to consider:

1. Help him avoid “all-nighters”. Don't wait until the night before a big test to study. Cutting back on sleep the night before a test may mean you perform worse than you would if you'd studied less but got more sleep.

2. Create the right sleeping environment. Studies show that teenagers sleep best in a dark room that is slightly on the cool side.

3. Discourage him from drinking caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening.

4. Don't let him sleep in for more than a total of two hours over the entire weekend.

5. Don't let him nap too much. Naps of more than 30 minutes during the day may keep you from falling asleep later.

6. Encourage regular exercise. Try not to exercise right before bed, though, as it can rev you up and make it harder to fall asleep. Finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime.

7. Have him turn off all electronic equipment (including phones) at least an hour before bed.

8. Help your son learn relaxation techniques in order to unwind and signal the body that it's time for sleep. Encourage him to practice creative visualization and progressive relaxation techniques. Putting thoughts and worries in a journal often helps to put problems to rest, enabling the child to sleep.

9. If your son gets into the habit of turning his alarm off and going back to sleep, place his alarm clock further away from his bed so that he has to get up to turn it off.

10. Know that morning sunshine can help to reset the internal clock. So when the alarm goes off, consider opening the blinds/curtains. Bright light in the morning signals the body that it's time to get going.

11. Help him to relax his mind. Avoid violent, scary, or action movies or television shows right before bed — anything that might set your mind and heart racing. Reading books with involved or active plots may also keep you from falling or staying asleep.

12. Set a regular bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night signals to your body that it's time to sleep. Waking up at the same time every day can also help establish sleep patterns. So try to stick as closely as you can to your sleep schedule even on weekends.

13. Simulate the dawn by opening the curtains and turning on the lights an hour before your teen needs to get up.

14. The alarm clock should not double as your son’s radio – and it should not play all night long. This will desensitize him to the noise and make it harder to wake up to an actual ‘alarm’.

15. Help him unwind by keeping the lights low. Light signals the brain that it's time to wake up. Staying away from bright lights (including computer screens), as well as meditating or listening to soothing music, can help your body relax.

16. Encourage him to avoid TV, computer and telephone at least one hour before he goes to bed.

17. Make getting up in the morning something your son ‘wants’ to do – or at least something he doesn’t dread (e.g., a simple ‘good morning’; his favorite breakfast food, preferably something that has a pleasant smell to it that permeates the house like fresh backed cinnamon buns; smiles from you, etc.).

18. Talk with your son about his sleep/awake schedule and level of tiredness. Discuss how much time he spends in extracurricular activities and after-school jobs.

19. Help him make adjustments to his commitments (e.g., homework) so he can get his sleep needs met.

20. Consider a safe supplement to help you son fall asleep (e.g., melatonin).

In some cases, an inability to get up on time for school – or excessive daytime sleepiness during school hours – can be a sign of something more than a problem with your teenager's internal clock. Other problems can include:

1. Depression. Sleeping too much or too little is a common sign of depression.

2. Insomnia or biological clock disturbance. If your son has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, he is likely to struggle with daytime sleepiness.

3. Medication side effects. Many medications can affect sleep (e.g., over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, prescription medications to treat depression and ADHD).

4. Narcolepsy. Sudden daytime sleep, usually for only short periods of time, can be a sign of narcolepsy. Narcoleptic episodes can occur at any time – even in the middle of a conversation. Sudden attacks of muscle weakness in response to emotions such as laughter, anger or surprise are possible, too.

5. Obstructive sleep apnea. When throat muscles fall slack during sleep, they stop air from moving freely through the nose and windpipe. This can interfere with breathing and disrupt sleep.

6. Restless legs syndrome. This condition causes a "creepy" sensation in the legs and an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually shortly after going to bed. The discomfort and movement can interrupt sleep.

I hope you’ll find a least a couple tips here that will help. Good luck!

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD


•    Anonymous said… He could make his lunch the night before to save time in the morning.
•    Anonymous said… I asked my son what time he is setting his alarm for and that if he's not up I will wake him. He agreed to that. So far he has been getting himself up though.
•    Anonymous said… I feel like maybe you could make a deal with him, that if he doesn't get up to the alarm, then you can/will wake him up. Leave the alarm running to show him he missed it.
That's what works for me and my son. He wants independence and gets mad at me because he thinks Im nagging him. But I then follow up with showing g why Im reacting the way I am. And because he is confronted and can see Im doing this, because this. He can understand me, and MEET me with understanding. And slowly from there he learns that task of independence. Im his fall back. But he can do it on his own. By the way. He is 5yrs old. Not sure if that's helpful.
•    Anonymous said… I find that once I let go of my fears that he would fail, and wanting to help him since that is my job as his mom, he really surprised me and is very good at being self sufficient. Natural consequences of getting in trouble at school when he is late are best. I do find that I have to be completely hands off though, or he can blame me for anything that does not go to plan.
•    Anonymous said… Just want to say good luck. I didn't see how old your son was, I hope it works for him (and you) I agree with Anna, let him try it and if he has trouble help him. My aspie son is now 27. Graduated college has a job and bought his own home last year. While there are still every day struggles. Your son seems to be wanting to try things on his own. Your story could have been mine all those years ago.
•    Anonymous said… Love all the insight this page has given me!!  ❤
•    Anonymous said… My daughter set her alarm clock on the farthest side of the room from her bed on purpose so she would have to get out of bed and walk a few steps to turn it off. As a result she is super punctual getting up in the mornings. She is 13. Another thing that could help is to get him a fitbit and use the silent alarm function - it will vibrate on his wrist at the selected time and help wake him up gently. I always hated beeping alarms but this gentle vibration on my wrist is just enough to bring me out of sleep and does not assault my ears so I can get up in a much better mood!
•    Anonymous said… My suggestion is to practice getting up (not in the morning - as a trial run). Then video it and play it back to him once you've got it down. He needs a picture in his mind of what getting up in the morning looks like. Once that picture is planted in his head, that will be the way he sees it and acts on it. We did this with my son and it worked.

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