- Early detection and treatment of autism is important for optimal outcomes.
- A delayed diagnosis could eventually lead to life long deficits and developmental delays which could impair daily living.
- Because there are very few markers of autism in children before 12-18 months of age, treatment is often delayed by a failure to diagnose the disorder early in infancy.
- While researchers continue to try and understand the full etiology of the disorder, recognized causes of autism include genetic factors, prenatal factors, environmental factors, and/or a combination of these.
- Although causal factors of autism have been researched for many decades, there seems to be limited research on potential differences in lifestyle behaviors between young children with and without autism.
- Previous research has shown that sleep disturbances are not uncommon in individuals with autism (Cohen, Conduit, Lockley, Rajaratnam, 2014).
- Several aspects of sleeplessness (extreme difficulty getting to sleep, long periods of night waking, short duration sleep at night, early morning waking and consequent daytime sleepiness) are consistently the most commonly reported (Wiggs & Stores, 2004).
- Several other forms of sleep disturbances are also prevalent, including parasomnias and other inconsistencies in sleep patterns (Ming, Sun, Nachajon, Brimacombe, & Walters, 2009).
The purpose of this study is to explore the differences in sleeping positions and nighttime waking between typically developing infants and infants who go on to develop Autism Spectrum Disorder.
If documented, this could be another early marker for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The information presented below was taken from a larger study exploring early lifestyle differences in children with autism and children without autism.
Our research team contacted well-known organizations (e.g., Autism Speaks, Autism Awareness, etc.) through their social media pages (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) to ask if they were willing to post our survey link on their webpage. If an organization agreed, the survey link was posted on their webpage for viewers to see.
Following the BISCUIT questionnaire, participants were asked to recall what percentage of time their infant slept in specific positions (i.e., back, side, stomach or “other”). Parents were asked to report their child's sleeping positions for different age /developmental time points. They were also asked to report how many times per night their child awoke in the first five months. Finally, parents were asked to report whether or not their child had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Each participant who provided contact information and answered the survey completely and honestly received their choice of either a $5 Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts gift card. Participants were also entered into a drawing to win a $100 Amazon gift card and at the end of the research study,
- In the past sleeping disturbances have been observed in individuals with autism.
- This is the first study to document differences in sleeping patterns of infants with autism in the first five months of life.
- Specifically, trends in the data suggest that infants with autism wake up more frequently than typically developing infants.
- One possible reason for the correlation between sleep disturbances and children with autism is the presence of a defective ASMT gene, which is responsible for the coding of the last enzyme in the anabolic pathway of melatonin synthesis. This defect in melatonin synthesis could either be responsible for ineffectual melatonin, or perhaps lower levels of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for maintaining an individuals sleep cycle, and if this hormone is not functioning correctly, it could affect a child's sleep-wake cycle. However, more research is needed to further support this relation between the ASMT gene, autism, and sleep disturbance (Melke, Botros, Chaste, Betancur, Nygren, Anckarsäter, & Chabane, 2008)
- Another explanation for this waking phenomenon is that children with autism, being more susceptible to over-stimulus, are more prone to being woken by environmental factors. The significance here being that the confirmation of infants experiencing greater rates of sleep disturbance and subsequently experiencing autism diagnosis later life, then autism symptoms may display themselves earlier than initially recognized (Malow & McGrew, 2008).