World Autism Awareness Day: Neurologist shares strategies for improved sleep quality in children with ASD

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New Delhi: Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD affects millions of children across the globe including India. The prevalence of Autism in India has been rising rapidly, with an estimated 1 in 68 children suffering from the condition, as per data from a study of 2021 published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics. As per the estimates, boys are more commonly affected by the condition as compared to girls and the male-to-female ratio in India stands at 3:1.

Children with Autism often show high levels of co-occurring behavioural problems. Among these, sleep issues are the prominent ones, some of the common sleep-related complaints and symptoms in ASD children include insomnia, bedtime settling issues, sleep anxiety, poor sleep quality and sleep-disordered breathing problems. On World Autism Awareness Day, let’s discuss ways and strategies to deal with sleep issues in ASD children.

Dr Priyanka Madaan, MD, DM Pediatric Neurologist, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad told News9, “Sleep disorders are quite common in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The sleep problems in children with ASD include increased sleep latency, reduced sleep duration, frequent awakenings, poor sleep quality, etc. Sleep problems affect the child’s and his/her family’s quality of life. Addressing sleep disorders in children with ASD presents a multifaceted challenge. Implementing strategies tailored to improve sleep quality is crucial for enhancing the overall functioning and development of children with ASD.”

Strategies for improved quality of life

Establishing and maintaining a bedtime routine is essential. A consistent and structured routine helps in regulating a child’s circadian rhythm. Dr Madaan suggests, “This might include calming activities such as listening to gentle music, reading a book, etc. Flashcards can aid in conveying the bedtime routine to the child. Creating a conducive sleep environment is also important. Sensory stimuli affecting sleep such as excessive noise, bright lights, etc should be minimised at bedtime. Sensory integration techniques, such as weighted blankets may be comforting.”

Management of underlying medical or physiological factors contributing to sleep disturbances is crucial. Coexisting conditions such as gastrointestinal issues or sensory sensitivities, may exacerbate sleep problems. Management of these conditions through medications, dietary modifications, or sensory integration therapy can significantly improve sleep quality.

Ways to manage sleep disorder in ASD

Behavioural interventions are vital in managing sleep disorders in children with ASD. Techniques such as scheduled awakenings, or positive reinforcement strategies can be effective in reducing nighttime awakenings. Parental education and support are pivotal. Providing caregivers with resources, guidance, and coping strategies empowers them to navigate sleep challenges effectively. Medications such as melatonin help reduce sleep onset latency.

In conclusion, addressing sleep disorders in children with ASD requires a comprehensive approach. Implementation of tailored strategies including consistent bedtime routine, environment, medical management, behavioural interventions, and parental support, can enhance the quality of life for both the child and the family.

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