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Calls to Action

Sleep and circadian rhythms in children with autism and their infant siblings

La Jolla
State/Province Full: 
United States

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 88 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Within the population of children with ASD, approximately 44%-83% also suffer significant sleep problems. Disturbed sleep–wake patterns and abnormal hormone profiles in children with ASD suggest an underlying impairment of the circadian timing system, though strong empirical evidence for this pathophysiology is limited. This research training project focuses on of a series of studies in children with ASD and their infant siblings that will 1) characterize sleep problems via actigraphy, sleep-wake logs and questionnaires, 2) determine patterns of light exposure in order to account for environmental cues that could serve to influence the circadian system, and 3) identify impairments in circadian regulation by light using measures of pupillary response. These methods can be applied across a wide range of ages and are relatively inexpensive, non-invasive and not subject to performance or behavioral variability. Further elucidating the impairments underlying sleep disturbance in children with ASD will better inform treatment strategies. Applying these measures to high-risk infants will reveal the development and origins of circadian atypicalities (potential endophenotypes), providing insight into risk factors, etiology and potential early biomarkers of ASD. Finally, early screening and diagnosis can improve access to services during a child's most critical developmental period. This work may further contribute to advancing current diagnostic and intervention strategies for young infants at risk for developing ASD