No more sleepless nights A new study gives hope and aims to assist families and their autistic children suffering from debilitating sleep disturbances at the University of Canterbury.
he effectiveness of treatments for sleep disturbance in children with autism is now underway in a new study conducted by two University of Canterbury researchers. UC School of Health Sciences senior lecturer Dr Laurie McLay and Associate Professor Karyn France are keen to provide assistance to families of autistic children as part of the research process and say help is available for children across the range of communicative ability. “Sleep is one of the major concerns reported by parents of children with autism,” Dr McLay says. “Our study offers practical support to families, who select an individualised treatment to use with their child to improve sleep.” For children across New Zealand three years and above who have a formal diagnois and are not currently receiving treatment, are eligible to particpate in the study. Dr McLay says there are very high rates of sleep disturbance in children with autism and problems can develop due to physiological components, as well as environmental influences. “As many as 40 to 80 percent of children with autism have some type of sleep difficulty. This can include delayed sleep onset, frequent and prolonged night awakenings – or a combination of both,” she says. “Sleep disturbance can have an impact on a child’s learning, behaviour and socialisation, as well as affecting the overall well-being of parents, who can become stressed and also affected by lack of sleep.” Supported by a research grant from
AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong developmental disability affecting social and communication skills and includes Asperger’s syndrome. People on the autism spectrum can have accompanying learning disabilities, but everyone with the condition shares the common difficulty in making sense of the world. Key symptoms include difficulties with communication and social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 New Zealanders have Autism Spectrum Disorders, which makes it approximately four times more common than cerebral palsy and 17 times more common than Down’s syndrome. SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM IN CHILDREN
the IHC Foundation and the university researchers have been working in partnership with IDEA Services and various autism support networks to recruit participants. The research team has already worked with a number of families to successfully reduce sleep problems. So far the response in Auckland and Christchurch as been good, but there is still room for more children in the study right around the country, Dr McLay says.
The study focuses on behaviour therapies and other treatments such as the use of white noise and massage therapy. Dr McLay says this study is about investigating the effectiveness of approaches that may minimise parent and child distress. The researchers are based at Dovedale Centre Pukemanu which is run by the UC Child and Family Psychology Programme at the School of Health Sciences on Dovedale Terrace in Ilam.
For more detailed explanations and further information on diagnosis and treatment for autism visit www. altogetherautism.org.nz.
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Fendalton Ilam Gazette 11-07-16