Autism Speaks endorses sleep guidelines for children with autism 

February 20, 2020
Autism and Sleep: Autism Speaks endorses sleep guidelines for children with autism 

NEW YORK – Sleep problems are one of the most common reported medical conditions in children and teens with autism, affecting more than half the population. To give health providers clear advice on the best practices verified by research, the American Academy of Neurology on Thursday published guidelines for treating sleep problems for children with autism.

Endorsed by Autism Speaks as well as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Child Neurology Society, and the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the guidelines give health providers steps to take to treat sleep issues like insomnia and wakefulness.

“Good sleep is essential to overall health for anyone, but especially so for people with autism,” said Thomas W. Frazier, Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks. “Poor sleep can reduce daily quality of life for the whole family, so it is important to find a strategy that works for your child to help them get the sleep they need.”

Although published by a group of specialists, these sleep guidelines are targeted to support primary care providers treating children with autism in their practices. The guidelines echo the best practices in sleep developed by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.

Providers should start by figuring out if a medication or other medical condition is causing the sleep issue. 

Once those factors are ruled out or adjusted, providers should offer strategies for families to use to create health sleep habits. These include setting a consistent bedtime, a calming routine leading up to bedtime, and eliminating the use of electronic devices close to bedtime.

If children are still not sleeping well, providers can refer families for cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that can help problem-solve sleep issues.

If additional help is needed, a pharmaceutical-grade melatonin supplement has also been shown to be effective and safe in children in the short-term, for up to three months.

“Sleep problems can make behavioral issues in children and teens with autism even worse,” said guideline author Ashura Williams Buckley, MD, of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology in a press release. “That’s why it is important for parents and caregivers to work with healthcare providers to find a way to improve a child’s sleep because we know that good quality sleep can improve overall health and quality of life in all children.”

You may also like: ATN/AIR-P Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Parent Booklet and Quick Tips, ATN/AIR-P Sleep Strategies for Teens with Autism, and ATN/AIR-P Melatonin and Sleep Problems: A Guide for Parents