Daylight Savings Time and Autism

It’s just one hour. One.hour. It shouldn’t make us this crazy, right? My son has always struggled with this. If I’m being honest, I do too. And, so do our dogs. It takes us weeks to recover from the Daylights Savings Time change. Both fall and spring. Lots of families struggle with this.

I overthink and overplan many things. DST happens to be one of them. But, I have found that my over preparation does help us navigate the time change more easily. So, if your child has autism, ADHD, anxiety or something else, I thought I’d share my tips. We have a little bit of everything in this household.

Daylight Savings Time and Health

If your child struggles with Daylight Savings Time, it means that they are…..human. Seriously. Of course it affects them!

DST has a lot of negative effects on human beings. This is just a partial list of things that have been studied and discovered.

  • The 48 hours after the time change usually results in an increase in both heart attacks and strokes. (source)
  • Fatal Car Accidents spike as much as 6% the week after the time change. (source)
  • Other health issues related to DST: increased eating (hormones disrupted), increased agitation (loss of sleep), fogginess, feeling jetlagged, and is linked to increased cancer rates.

It makes sense. Our bodies have a circadian rhythm, which affects everything we do. Every cell in our body is programmed to do something and DST interrupts that. Lack of sleep (a by-product for many due to the time change) is linked to a whole host of health issues–everything from increased ADHD characteristics to cancer and diabetes.

Now, I’m not being so flip as to suggest that you can “cure” anything with sleep. But science has really examined the value of sleep.

And kids with more sensitivity to body clocks and interoception may experience DST more severely than the rest of us. I point out these health issues in case you experience some of the same peer pressure that I have experienced at times. “What do you mean you can’t visit us this weekend? It’s only daylight savings time. Not sure why you have to make such a big deal out of it.” It is a big deal.

But, they didn’t ask me my opinion before implementing this federal mandate. Many states are working on getting rid of it.

I seriously treat Daylight Savings Time like it’s Armageddon or the end of days. But, you know what? It works for us. Here are some ideas that I do as a parent, and some things your kids can do too. I’ve included some changes to the environment that may help too.

History of Daylight Savings Time

Many think that Ben Franklin invented DST. He did not. From the Franklin Institute: The common misconception comes from a satirical essay he wrote in the spring of 1784 that was published in the Journal de Paris. In the essay, titled “An Economical Project,” he writes of the thrifty benefits of daylight versus artificial light. He describes how—when woken by a loud noise at 6 a.m.—he noticed that the sun had already risen.

Daylight savings time has a short and interesting history. It started as a federal mandate during WWII. First of all, remember that during the 1940s, artificially-lighted homes were still a novelty. And, it was expensive. So it was thought that by giving folks an extra hour at the end of the day, they would be less reliant on “artificial light” and save money.

This is why 2 states–Hawaii and Arizona, do not observe DST. They are closer to the equator and so their sunset times do not vary as much as they do in northern states. But, it’s important to note that Indiana did not observe daylight savings for a long time, many years. When the state returned to observing DST, they studied it–and yep, their electricity costs actually went up.

As society modernized, the ‘fall back’ argument was made that school children need the safety of daylight in the morning as they wait for buses or walk to school.

Tips for Daylight Savings Time and Autism or ADHD

Parents know their households best. You know if your child thrives on routine, benefits from explanations, or will become filled with anxiety and perseverate on a looming time change.

  1. In our house, I just prepare, and then as Nike says, “Just do it.” Other households may want to start communicating about the time change ahead of time and gradually moving meal and sleep/wake times. You know yourself and your kids best.
  2. The same goes for explaining the change. Some kids may need an explanation, for others, it may make them more anxious. Let your child know what day it’s going to happen and what to expect. For example, you might talk about how it will now be dark in the morning when they wake. If pre-explanations may confuse your child or cause more anxiety, it might be best to talk to them on the day of the change.
  3. For some thinkers, it is necessary to explain why the clocks are being changed. How detailed your explanation is will depend on your child. This may require some internet research ahead of time.Teachers Pay Teachers has some social stories on DST that may be of help to your household.
  4. Send an email to your IEP team reminding them that your child struggles with Daylight Savings Time and to be alert for changes in performance or behavior.
  5. Use visuals if that helps your child. Circle the date on the calendar. Have them change all the clocks with you, or observe you doing it.
  6. If your child is struggling to fall asleep, talk with your doctor before trying any remedies, “natural” or otherwise. Especially if your child is on medications.
  7. If going to bed when it is still light out is a struggle, consider room-darkening shades.
  8. I make sure that even if I drop the ball on grocery shopping and meal planning, I am over-prepared for Daylight Savings Time week. I have easy prep meals and things that everyone likes.
  9. Keep everyone hydrated as much as is feasible.
  10. Get some fresh air and exercise each day even if it’s just a short dog walk or bouncing on a trampoline for a few minutes.
  11. Adults should avoid alcohol because alcohol disrupts your sleep.
  12. I keep our calendar clear and to a minimum so that we aren’t stressed out by going in a zillion different directions. (much easier during the pandemic!) Don’t be afraid to say “no” this week. You want to keep kids busy so that they are tired at night, but not over-tired.
  13. Consider getting them their own special clock. There are so many cool options out there, and some that indicate to the child when it is ok to get out of bed. If they are waking too early, have a quiet activity like a book on their nightstand and instruct them to do that activity until it’s time to get up.
  14. Give yourself and your family members extra time, grace and patience.

I have yet to meet anyone who says that they just love Daylight Savings Time. But, for the time being, it’s what we do in most of the USA.

Unfortunately, you might do all of these tips, and in the end, it could still take days, weeks, or even months for your child to adjust.

For my household, the fall change is harder on us than the spring change. And that goes for kids and dogs! It seems like the dogs are up at 3 or 4 am for weeks afterward, whining to go out. Normally I take them out between 5-6 am. It’s brutal.

But, we’ve done it dozens and dozens of times before, and we’ll make it through this one too. Good luck and godspeed!

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