Teaching Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder How to Sleep Better: A Pilot Educational Program for Parents

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Abstract

While many factors contribute to sleep difficulties in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), behavioral sleep education is often effective. However, providing families with the educational tools and the support they need to help their children sleep can be challenging given limited access to care. We piloted the use of a 5-week home sleep education program in 10 parents of children with ASD, ages 3–9 years. Parents read a sleep education manual (extracted from a book on sleep and ASD) and then implemented the suggested strategies with their children. The Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire, the Family Inventory of Sleep Habits, and actigraphy were completed prior to and after the intervention. Parents also completed a postintervention interview to assess understanding and comfort with implementation. Of 8 completers, 6 children showed improvement in sleep patterns, which included bedtime resistance, time to fall asleep, night wakings, and cosleeping. Actigraphy data showed improvements in sleep latency (time to fall asleep) for most of the children. Two children were able to discontinue supplemental melatonin. All parents reported good to excellent understanding of the manual and reported high comfort levels with implementation. Our pilot findings suggest that some parents can learn effective strategies for promoting sleep and teach them to their children with ASD without the guidance of a trained educator.

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