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'Having a child who doesn't sleep makes you part of a secret club you only find out about when you join it and would prefer not to be a part of. When everyone else is switching their lights off and going to sleep, you are switching yours on.' So says Jane Ansell whose own experience prompted her to set up the charity, Sleep Scotland, to provide support to families who have children and young people with additional support needs and sleep problems.
Jane's son, who is on the autistic spectrum with severe learning difficulties, slept in fragments. His teacher said that in her 20 years of special education she had yet to meet a pupil who did not have some kind of sleeping disorder. Wanting to find out more, Jane started to research and came across some startling facts. She discovered that while sleep is just as essential as nutrition, children and young people with additional support needs often have serious sleep problems. She also learned that, although the impact of sleep deprivation is vast, sleep problems feature very little in medical or health care professional teaching.
Using her psychology background and intensive research, Jane designed a sleep programme based on cognitive and behavioural techniques. She stuck to consistent routines and reinforced positive behaviour. Her son's sleep pattern improved dramatically. Fast forward 13 years and he is now a happy and strong 22-year-old who no longer has sleep problems, and Jane is director of Sleep Scotland.
Sleep Scotland has 322 sleep counsellors and has worked with 2,387 children and their families. Sleep counsellors work face-to-face with families to produce a tailor-made sleep programme and provide continuing support to help families improve their child's sleep.
It recently launched Sound Sleep to raise awareness in secondary schools of the importance of sleep for health and wellbeing and to respond to the common complaint of young people 'turning night into day' and research, which portrays a dismal picture of young people's quality and quantity of sleep.
The Sound Sleep pack and training day provides professionals with information and resources to teach students about sleep and to support them to change their sleep routines. The resources fit with the health and wellbeing frameworks of the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish curriculums. There are also materials for other professionals and parents.
More information: www.sleepscotland.org or 0131 651 1392.
Other articles published in our March 2014 newsletter:
Other articles about additional support needs: