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Healthy Sleep Routine Important for Children with Autism, Improves Overall Behavior : STUDY

Sep 29, 2013 11:53 AM EDT

New research has found that parents of children with autism who practice better day-to-night transitions promote healthier sleep patterns and improve their overall behavior and quality of life.

For the study, which was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vanderbilt University researchers gave parents advice on how to promote healthy sleep patterns during the day and nighttime. Tips included encouraging their autistic children to get sufficient exercise during the day, limit their caffeine intake in sodas and to decrease the time spent playing computer or video games before bedtime which can keep them alert for longer.

"We found that one hour of one-on-one sleep education or four hours of group sleep education delivered to parents, combined with two brief follow-up phone calls, improved sleep as well as anxiety, attention, repetitive behavior and quality of life in children with [autism spectrum disorders] who had difficulty falling asleep," study author Dr. Beth Malow, a professor of neurology and pediatrics, and a professor of cognitive childhood development at Vanderbilt University, said in a university news release.

"The parents also benefited; they reported a higher level of parenting competence after completing the education sessions. The one-on-one and group sessions showed similar levels of success. In contrast, an earlier study that simply gave parents a pamphlet without guidance on how to use it did not provide the same level of improvement in child sleep."

Sleep educators worked together with parents to establish a visual schedule for their children to help them establish a bedtime routine and discussed ways to help children get back to sleep if they woke up at night.

 The researchers worked with parents of 80 autistic children between the ages 2 to 10. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

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