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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • sleep problems

Summary

Autism is a developmental disability characterized by severe deficits in social interaction and communication, and the presence of repetitive-ritualistic behaviors. Sleep problems are frequently reported by parents of children with autism with prevalence estimates of 44–83% for sleep disorders in this population. To better understand sleep in autism, we surveyed sleep problems in 210 children with autism using a Likert-based questionnaire for parent report. The most frequently reported sleep problems included difficulty in falling asleep, restless sleep, not falling asleep in own bed, and frequent wakenings. Least frequently reported sleep problems were sleep walking, morning headaches, crying during sleep, apnea, and nightmares. When surveys were divided into mental retardation (MR)/not MR categories, no significant differences were identified in frequencies of reported sleep problems except for waking at night which occurred much more frequently in the MR group. There was also no difference in sleep problems related to age of the child other than nocturnal enuresis. An association was noted between certain medical problems and sleep problems. Vision problems, upper respiratory problems, and runny nose were associated with decreased nighttime sleep. Vision problems, poor appetite, and poor growth were associated with increased nighttime waking. Poor appetite and poor growth were associated with decreased willingness to fall asleep. This study confirms a high prevalence of sleep problems reported by parents of children with autism and points to the need for more systematic research as an initial step in developing treatment strategies.