Children with autism who deal with sleep-related issues in their early childhood are more likely to have behavioral regulation difficulties later, says a recent study. It also became one of the first studies to prove that sleep quality and executive function, skills that help one monitor their own behavior, are linked.
Lead investigator Mayada Elsabbagh, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and her team analyzed the behavior of more than 200 children with autism who participated in the study that began in 2005. Parents of children who were then between the ages 2 and 4 were asked to fill up the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire and then again three years later. The executive functioning of the children was analyzed several times when they were between 7 and 12 years of age.
It was found that the more severe was the child’s sleeping issues in early childhood, the less behavioral regulation they had in their later childhood years. This correspondence was not seen among children who only experienced frequent awakenings during the night.
The study also suggests providing support and therapy for improved sleep quality in autistic children with sleep issues in their early childhood. Elsabbagh believes that it may also help in behavioral regulation from an early age. Acknowledging that executive functioning is affected by multiple factors, she also said more research needs to be taken up on the topic to determine better interventions.