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Dr. Beth Ann Malow, MD, Sleep Chat Transcript

February 21, 2012 6 comments

12:50
Hi Everyone! We are going to begin in about 10 minutes!
12:53
Thank you SO much for joining us. After the chat, we’ll be posting the transcript on the Autism Speaks science blog:http://blog.autismspeaks.org/category/science/
12:55
Comment From Kristie Vick

thank you for this!

12:57
Our hosts today are Dr. Beth Ann Malow, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and ATN Program Director Nancy Jones, Ph.D.,
12:58
Comment From Ana

Is there any thing like maybe a foutain or something with nature sounds that can help them to sleep?

12:58
Hi Ana, This is Dr. Malow. Great question. I often recommend white noise machines or sounds of nature as they can help adults and children on the spectrum go to sleep. It works by distracting people so they don’t focus on not sleeping. A fan can also be effective.
1:01
Comment From myra

hi, my daugter age 10 has always had her days and nights flipped, recently her MT suggested melatonin ,her family doctor ok’d it to try and it does work wonders for her. My question though is this – I worry about long term use and are there other methods to help her besides melatonin? And yes we tried baths, lavender, rubbing, and most of all the other normal sleep helps? thank you.

1:02
Hi Myra– This is Dr. Malow. I am glad the melatonin is working. It is generally safe long term, although I would recommend that you look at our Sleep Booklet (you can find a link here) which has basic sleep tips for children with autism spectrum disorders. You may find some strategies there that help your child sleep.
1:06
Comment From Lise

I have a daughter who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea. We have a lot of trouble getting her to use her CPAP machine regularly. Any suggestions? She is thirteen, verbal and is not quite high functioning, but does well overall.

1:07
CPAP treatment for sleep apnea really works and the good news is that you will likely see lots of benefits once Lise is using the machine regularly, including sleeping soundly at night and being more alert during the day. To get used to CPAP, a respiratory therapist or sleep technologist can be key to success. They can help you and Lise get acclimated to the machine. I would ask your sleep specialist who diagnosed Lise if there is anyone at the sleep center who could help with this.
1:07
Hi all,
You won’t see questions post until they are selected to be answered. We’ll try to get to as many as we can. Thanks.
1:08
Comment From marie fauth

do you know what are the scientific research about sleep disorders and autism ?

1:10
Dear Marie– There is a lot of exciting scientific research going on about sleep disorders and autism! We are looking at medical causes that interfere with sleep, such as GI issues and anxiety, as well as brain chemicals that affect sleep, such as melatonin. We are also looking at issues specific to those with autism– increased sensitivities to noise and touch, difficulty understanding parents expectations about sleep. All of these causes can be addressed. Be sure to seek advice from your pediatrician who may likely refer you to a sleep specialist or autism specialist.
1:12
Comment From dee

my 6 yr old as been precribed 3mg melatonin an 3 mg m/r melatonin but it wears of at two so she is a asleep from 7 till 2 its really starting to wear me down as she i have two other children to an non of us are sleeping an i really need some help with it as iv been fighting for two years an all they do is keep changing her sleeping tablets :o(

1:13
Dear Dee– I would ask your pediatrician for a referral to a sleep specialist who is comfortable with children on the spectrum. There are lots of things to try. The first thing I would want to be sure of is that there isn’t a medical reason why your child is waking up at 2– GI issues, breathing problems, etc. Also, there are some behavioral strategies that can be tried to return your child to sleep– some are in the sleep toolkit. The important thing to remember is that there are lots of things to try– you just need to get under the care of someone who is familiar with sleep problems in autism.
1:16
Comment From Sebree

My son is 16 and up until he reached puberty, we had no problems getting him to sleep in his own bed. He now falls asleep on the couch and when we go to bed he ends up on our bedroom floor. He is a very light sleeper and wakes up immediately if we wake up. We give him melatonin, which seems to relax him at first and get him in the sleep zone, but once he wakes up in the middle of the night, he is up all night. Today, we are going to try to get him active outdoors, since he doesn’t do anything physical.

1:17
Dear Sebree– Puberty and adolescence can definitely be a challenging time for sleep! You are absolutely correct to try to increase his daytime activity, as exercise can make a big difference. Also be sure he isn’t using caffeine especially in the afternoon and evening. You might also want to try controlled release melatonin (comes in a pill as the coating is what makes it controlled release– so he will need to be able to swallow pills). We are working on a sleep brochure for teens that will be released in the future.
1:19
Comment From Maritza:
Hi Dr. Malow, Is prolong use of Melantonin harmful? If so, what is best to use. My 18 year old son (preparing to go away to college) averages six to six and a half hours of sleep. Also, if Melantonin is OK to use – What is the best brand? Thanking you, Maritza
1:20
Hi Maritza. This is Dr. Malow. Melatonin is generally not harmful if you use a reputable brand, however, it is important to seek the assistance of a sleep specialist or pediatrician with experience in sleep. This is to be sure that there aren’t any medical issues contributing to difficulty sleeping. Also, keep in mind that melatonin helps with falling asleep quicker but doesn’t help as much with how many hours of sleep a person gets. We used Natrol brand melatonin in our clinical trial as it was approved by the FDA for this study, although there are other reputable brands out there.
1:20
Comment From Guest

My son is 13 years old and sometimes does not go to sleep for up to 4 days at a time. I have caught him watching tv and playing video games. His school calls and says he is sick he is white as a bed sheet…. What do I need to do?

1:21
This is a great question and several others have asked questions about TV/’video games as well–so I am hopefully addressing lots of others with this question. It is important to realize that TV/video games can be extremely stimulating– not just the content but also the flickering lights, which interfere with our natural levels of melatonin. I recommend turning the TV/video games/phones/etc off at least one hour before bedtime and making sure individuals engage in non-stimulating/relaxing activities before bed. Getting your son to understand this may be challenging– this is where your pediatrician may be able to help. If removing the electronics doesn’t help, ask for a referral to a sleep specialist.
1:22
To all-in addition to the Sleep Toolkit, you can also check out a recent blog on Sleep that provides information about sleep management.Toolkit
http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/resources-programs/autism-treatment-network/tools-you-can-use Blog on sleep management
http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2012/02/17/my-son-has-sleep-problems-what-can-help/
1:23
Comment From Wyayn

I work at a Transition program with students 18-21. We help students with autism learn work, independent living, and post-secondary skills. Many of our students come to school very sleepy. We spend much of our day talking about alerting strategies to help them stay awake. Parents report to us they have difficulty sleeping at night. How would you recommend we work with parents to help them sleep at night so they can be awake during the day and focused on school?

1:24
Dear Wyayn– it is terrific that you want to be proactive with these parents and that they are in close communication with you! I would suggest you set up a workshop where you can bring in a sleep specialist to work with the parents for a day and provide information on how to help their children sleep. You may also want to engage the students in the workshop as well as they will feel empowered and engaged in the process.
1:27
Comment From Amanda

My son is on remeron at night which we switch up tp clonidine I worry about him getting addicted to the point where he won’t sleep without meds So I some times switch he over to melatonin. If he has no meds he with stay with just as much energy as if he just woke up other times the meds make him relaxed but he still stays up till around 2-4am Are theses medx going to be something he has to take forever he is 7 now and has been on and off them since he was 5

1:28
Dear Amanda– Excellent question. I would recommend you go back to basics and work with a child sleep specialist to try to identify the cause of your son’s problems with sleep. See previous answer about the scientific causes of sleep problems in autism– medical, biological, behavioral. Once the cause is identified, the most appropriate treatment can be prescribed rather than just trying a bunch of different meds.
1:29
Comment From Christy Guitard

My daughter is 5 and has autism. She has had sleep problems since a very young age. After trying many methods, her doctor recently started her on clonidine, and we found that 0.15mg (a tab and a half) helps her sleep from about 7:30pm-6am on most nights. Some nights she still awakens around 2 or 3, but these are rare. We have not noticed any side effects and she has been taking this dose for about 4 months now. As she grows, is it likely she will become more tolerant to the drug? Also, are there long term side effects you have seen in kids on the spectrum that take this drug? Thank you!

1:30
Dear Christy- It is great to hear that your daughter is sleeping well on clonidine and not having any side effects. As she gets older, the dose may need to be increased. I have not seen any long term side effects but I have occasionally seen this medication and others to stop working, so I would recommend that you look at the sleep toolkit and start trying those strategies.
1:32
Comment From Elizabeth Mills

We r n the process of getting on with the agency for persons with disability because the JDC has ordered our 17 asperger’s son 2 be place n residencial care 2 help him now get 24 hr help & conseling n the many problem areas he has hopefully before turning 18. Do u have any advice? This is all so new 2 us

1:33
To Elizabeth and others-While the focus on our webchat today is on sleep, the Autism Response Team members from our Family Services department can provide information on services and other resources.
1:34
Every Wednesday at 3pm EST Family Services Office Hours is held! Office Hours is designed to quickly provide access to resources that are available and free to the entire autism community.
1:35
Comment From Chris

Do you have any strategies on getting a 6 year old to sleep in his own bed? He has always slept with his mother and when we have tried to put him in his bed at night he wakes up immediately and will usually not go back to bed. If he wakes up at night I will try to take him out of the bed so my wife can get some sleep but he will just have a complete meltdown and nobody gets any sleep. He is given melatonin and Zertec, which helps him fall asleep. He will not take any other type of medicine that cannot be hidden in a cup of milk.

1:36
Dear Chris– Lots of parents would like to help their children learn to fall asleep in their own beds so your question is very relevant! If your son can learn to fall asleep on his own, he will likely be able to stay asleep in the middle of the night or be able to go back to sleep easier. To help him learn to fall asleep on his own, I would start by finding a book for your child to read about learning how to sleep in his own bed (there are several out there — “I want to sleep in your bed” by Harriet Ziefert is one) . It helps to start out by having mom sleep in a mattress right next to your son, and then move it a few inches away each night until they are sleeping in separate spaces. Be sure to couple this with a reward program for your son.
1:37
Also, please join us on March 1st at 3pm EST for ‘The Doctors Are In!’ Hosting will be, Head of Medical Research Joseph Horrigan, M.D. and Dr. Jose Polido, a dentist with at the ATN center in Los Angeles!
1:40
Comment From Mel

How can I find a child sleep specialist? (Our pediatrician does not seem to have any recommendation.) It also seems a little excessive for my son’s situation… he is a very restless sleeper and wakes in the morning not feeling rested; but he is not as extreme as others have described, as far as being up for hours. Melatonin helps, but not all night.

1:42
Dear Mel– Below is the info on how to find a accredited sleep center which has pediatric sleep specialists. You can also look at the Autism Treatment Network website as each of these 17 sites across North America has a pediatric sleep specialist with autism experience involved.
1:44
Comment From Helena

Hello, my son is 32 years old and he started having seizures 8 years ago. He has problems falling a sleep. He will lay down but wont be sleep. This can go on for a two til three days then he will have a seizure. Do you have information on a doctor that specializes in adult autism in pennsylvania

1:46
Helena-Dr. Jones here. Our ATN center at University of Pittsburgh, may be able to help find you a recommendation for a doctor in Pennsylvania who works with adults. You can contact them at (412) 235-5412. You can also contact our ART team.
1:47
Comment From Angela

what about adults and children with ADD/ADHD and sleep i am now adult with moderate ADD mild ADHD i struggle sleep since i was baby i have troubles falling asleep my mind wont shut off or stop thinking i would write my problems or thoughts down dont work i take malentonin

1:47
Dear Angela– ADD/ADHD, like autism spectrum disorders, is also associated with sleep problems. Be sure that any medication you are taking for ADD/ADHD isn’t too late in the day when it could be interfering with sleep, and also be sure there isn’t any other sleep problem going on at night, like a breathing problem. Your primary care physician can help with that. Writing your thoughts down is a great strategy– you might also try meditation or other relaxation techniques to help promote sleep.
1:48
Comment From Ana

We are about to move into a new place that has rooms for each of my two children. My son who is a aspie has to sleep with someone at all times or he wakes up and doesnt sleep. We are looking into getting a rescue dog that will maybe sleep with him in the bed, Do you think that this will help? Has there been any study on the dog/pet influence?

1:50
Dear Ana– I don’t know of any studies, but I think that a trained assisted dog is an excellent idea as it may help your son be less anxious at night. Anxiety is a big cause of sleep problems in kids with autism.
1:51
Advance question from Cathy:
Hi, My son is 6 ½ years old and has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s and shows symptoms of OCD, ODD, Anxiety, Sensory Integration Disorder. He takes a combination of Adderall XR 15mg, Adderall 30 mg, and Intunive 3 mg during the day. His day time hours at school are very good (finally!) but it’s the night time and first thing in the morning I struggle with the most. He has many meltdowns and tantrums, though he’s on a regular diet; blood test results have shown he’s got a higher gliadin level of 38. The medicines wear out of his body by 8:30pm usually, so he’s not on any medications until the next morning when I start his Adderall (XR and regular) again.
Once Daniel’s head hits the pillow, he usually falls asleep within minutes. Problem is, he’s up like 45 minutes later with night terrors. It’s terrifying because he sits in bed and just gives blood-curdling screams. When I go in to see what’s going on, he’ll start hitting, kicking, or punching me. I’ve heard that it’s best to leave him alone, but when I do that, the nightmare seems to last FOREVER. I’m a single working mom and need my sleep as much as he needs his!
What is the best way to handle his meltdowns/tantrums during the off-medicine times? What is the best way to handle his night terrors? Thanks
1:52
Hi Cathy. I would seek a referral to a pediatric sleep specialist as night terrors are very treatable, but must be properly diagnosed. We often will do a sleep study to document night terrors and exclude epileptic seizures. As for the meltdowns/tantrums, I would consult with an autism specialist, keeping in mind that improving sleep may also help these daytime symptoms.
1:52
Comment From Julie

Just joined, sorry i’m late. My 6 year old son has autism and tends to wake around 5 am. we really struggle getting him back to sleep. He is tired but isn’t understanding it’s still night time and bed time. any suggestions?

1:53
Dear Julie– In trying to help with early morning waking (5 am), it helps to figure out what time bedtime is. If bedtime is 8 am, you may want to see if your son can stay up a little later as that may help him sleep until 6 or 7 am. As he gets older, he may be able to entertain himself when he wakes up early. Kids with autism in general seem to need less sleep, so as long as it isn’t disruptive to the family, I wouldn’t be overly concerned.
1:55
Advance question from Richard
My son has trouble sleeping at night he gets up at least 2 or 3 times a night. But when he gets up he seems to be confused and kind of really knowing where he’s at. And the next morning he doesn’t remember even getting up! I was wondering if this is normal or does he have other issues than just having autism?
1:56
Hi Richard. This is Dr. Malow. I would be suspicious of confusional arousals (a form of sleep disorder similar to night terrors or sleepwalking) or possibly epileptic seizures. Would recommend seeking a referral to a pediatric sleep specialist.
1:57
Comment From Amanda

What is a sleep specialist and how do they identify problems?

1:57
Amanda– A sleep specialist is a physician who has been trained in sleep problems– it can be a neurologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician, or other specialist. Finding a sleep specialist who is trained in autism is challenging, but there are some excellent ones out there. Take a look at the link posted below for the Autism Treatment Network– each site has a pediatric sleep specialist with autism expertise.
1:59
Comment From Lisa

My 4 yr old granddaughter has a terrible time trying to fall asleep. She says shes afraid, she has terrible dreams, and sometimes will still be awake at 1-2am…She even is developing dark circles under her eyes because she isn’t sleeping. We’ve tried various things like bedtime stories, no TV for about 2 hours before bedtime, etc…Any suggestions?

2:00
Dear Lisa– Scary dreams can be really hard on a child! You are doing the right thing to try bedtime stories and limit TV before bedtime. Be sure she isn’t watching stimulating videos even earlier than 2 hours bedtime and that there aren’t any other stressors in her life. If not, you might want to talk with her pediatrician about whether she might have an anxiety disorder, which treatment can really help for.
2:01
Advance question from Lisa:
I have a non-verbal 8 year old son that has autism. He has been on clonidine for years but he still has a hard time staying asleep and he can have some “bad” days if he becomes too tired. Are there any new, safe alternatives that might help keep him asleep without causing him to be drowsy in the morning? He is learning to read, type and doing simple math, but these “bad” days seem interfere with his learning and his therapies, so I would really like to make sure he receives enough rest. Thank you guys for all you do for our children.
2:01
To Colleen-If you are asking about what early signs of autism are, I would suggest you check out our Learn the Signs page:Learn the Signs
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs Info on autism
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
2:02
Oops. Here’s the answer to the advance question from Lisa…. If he can swallow pills, I would recommend controlled release melatonin. If not, gabapentin may be a good alternative. Be sure that you seek medical advice, however, for a couple of reasons—1. To be sure there isn’t a medical reason (GI issues, etc) for the night wakings and 2. To be sure that whatever medication is chosen isn’t going to interfere with his other treatments. Also, be sure you review our new sleep booklet as we include some tips for night wakings.
2:03
Comment From Linda

I suspect my grandson has autism. Any tips on how to approach my son with this?

2:03
To Linda. Dr. Jones here. We have a Grandparents Guide to Autism you may find useful. The link to this document will follow.You may also find these webpages helpful. They have information on the early sigsns of autism.Learn the Signs
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs Info on autism
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
2:04
Thank you all SO much for joining us. Sorry we couldn’t get to all your questions.
After the chat, we’ll be posting the transcript on the Autism Speaks science blog: http://blog.autismspeaks.org.
Got more questions? Please join us next Thursday (3 pm ET/noon PT) for “The Doctors are In” webchat with our head of medical research child psychiatrist Joe Horrigan and guest host dentist Jose Polida, who practices with our ATN center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

A Trip to the Dentist Can Be a Positive Experience

February 21, 2012 15 comments

Posted by Elizabeth Shick, DDS, MPH, assistant professor at Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, one of 17 Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) sites across North America.

 As a dentist, I can only hope that when I say “open wide,” that’s exactly what the person sitting in my dental chair does. When I see children in my practice, I know I won’t get my wish every time. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty following directions during routine dental cleanings. Nonetheless, I love working with these kids and their families. So I’ve adapted my practice so that everyone involved with these wonderful patients gets the most out of each visit.

A few years ago, for example, I had a visit I will never forget. The family had not one but two sons with autism. My receptionist greeted the family and after consulting with the parents, we decided it would be best for me to see the six year old first, and then see his eight-year-old brother. He came into my small examination room with his mom and immediately began pacing and staring at the floor as if looking for something he had lost. I asked him to sit in the chair. He didn’t respond or look up. It was clear that the bag of tricks I learned in dental school wasn’t going to get him to cooperate.

To coax him into my examination chair, I asked his mom to hold his hand and help steer him into the chair. She continued to hold his hand during the entire visit. I made sure not to rush through with my typical routine. Instead, I showed him the mirror and toothbrush I was going to use and explained to him, each step of the way, what I was going to do next.

After a while, he began to make eye contact with me. He even smiled. He didn’t do everything I asked, and he struggled through certain parts of the appointment, sometimes trying to sit up or jump off the chair. But we got done what we needed to—a dental cleaning, a thorough dental exam, and a fluoride application. Then his dad came in with his older brother, and we did it all again.

During dental school, few students practice treating patients with ASD. For this reason, many dentists may feel uncomfortable when caring for patients with autism, and it can be difficult for families to find a dentist who understands their child’s needs.

I have been fortunate to work with some wonderful autism specialists here at Children’s Hospital Colorado. With support from Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network (ATN), we created Treating Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Tool Kit for Dental Professionals. It is designed to help dental professionals like myself understand autism and work with parents to help make office visits successful. I often use the recommendations in the tool kit in my own practice.

With autism on the rise, it’s becoming more and more important that dental providers—including dental hygienists, dental assistants and even front desk staff—have the most current information about autism and know how to interact with families affected by it. It is our sincere wish that more dentists will be empowered by our tool kit to welcome these children into their practice and help make their visits a positive experience. We hope you will share the new Dentist Tool Kit with your dental care providers. You can download for free, here. Also see Autism Speaks Dental Tool Kit for families, here.

Got Sleep Questions? We’ve Got a Webchat for You

February 21, 2012 6 comments

Please join us TODAY for a live webchat with neurologist and autism sleep expert Dr. Beth Ann Malow, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, at 1 pm Eastern (noon Central; 11 am Mountain; 10 am Pacific).

Dr. Malow will be fielding questions on sleep issues affecting individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. This webchat is being held in tandem with the same day release of Sleep Strategies for Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide, the latest free tool kit published by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) as part of its participation in the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P). The tool kit will become available for free download on the ATN’s “Tools You Can Use” page the same day.

Joining Dr. Malow will be ATN Program Director Nancy Jones, Ph.D., who will be fielding general questions about ATN services and other Autism Speaks resources.

We hope you’ll join us:

What: Live “Sleep Chat” with neurologist and autism sleep expert Dr. Beth Ann Malow
When: Feb. 21, at 1 pm Eastern; noon Central; 11 am Mountain; 10 am Pacific
Where: Join via the Live Chat tab on left side of the Autism Speaks Facebook page.

Tune-in to NBC Nightly News Tonight!

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Tune-in to NBC Nightly News this evening, February 17, at 6:30 p.m., ET, for an interview with Geri Dawson, Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer. Dawson will discuss the Autism Speaks funded Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) reported online today in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The new study suggests the changes in brain development that underlie autism may be detectable in children as young as 6 months of age, even before symptoms emerge.

For more details, here’s a link to a Science news item on the study.

My son has sleep problems. What can help?

February 17, 2012 55 comments

 Today’s “Got Questions?” response comes from two clinicians in Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network (ATN). Neurologist and sleep specialist Sangeeta Chakravorty, M.D., is director of the pediatric sleep program at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and psychologist and sleep educator Terry Katz, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and co-founder of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

First, know that you are not alone! Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep through the night. So Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network (ATN) clinicians have been studying how to help them sleep better. One result of this research is the Sleep Strategies for Children with Autism: A Parent’s Guide, made possible by the ATN’s participation in the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P). Starting next week (Feb. 21), this tool kit will become available for free download from the ATN’s Tools You Can Use webpage.

Here are some of the tips that we and our patients’ parents have found most helpful:

1. First, ask your child’s doctor to screen for any medical issues that may be interfering with sleep.

2. Prepare your child’s bedroom for sleep: Is the temperature comfortable? Does your child like the sheets, blankets and pajamas? A dark bedroom promotes sleep, but your child may need a night light for comfort. If unavoidable noises present a problem, ear plugs or a white noise machine may help. Keep the bed just for sleeping, not for playtime or time outs. And try to keep the environment consistent: e.g. If you use a night light, leave it on all night.

3. Maintain good daytime sleep habits: Have your child wake up around the same time each morning. Try eliminating daytime naps. Help your child get plenty of exercise and sunlight, but avoid vigorous physical activity within three hours of bedtime. Likewise avoid caffeinated food or drink (chocolate, cola, etc.) in the evening.

4. Prepare for bed: Keep bed time consistent, choosing a time when your child will be tired but not overtired. Develop a calm and consistent bedtime routine. Keep the lights low.

5. Consider using a visual schedule to help your child learn and track the bedtime routine.

6. Teach your child to fall asleep without any help from you. If your child is used to sleeping next to you, substitute pillows or blankets. If you can, leave the room. If this is too difficult, stay in the room without touching—for instance in a chair facing away from your child. Over a week or so, slowly move your chair toward the open door—until you’re sitting outside.

7. Teach your child to stay in bed. Set limits about how many times your child is allowed to get out of bed. Use visual reminders such as one or two bathroom and drink cards per night. Put a sign on the inside of the bedroom door to remind your child to go back to bed. If your child does get out of bed, stay calm and put him or her back to bed with as little talking as possible.

8. Reward your child for sleeping through the night, and remind your child of your expectations. Consider drawing a contract of expectations and rewards. Small rewards are best.

Helping Teens Sleep
Like young children, teens need adequate exercise and sunlight and consistent waking and bed times. However, adolescence brings hormonal changes that can delay the onset of sleepiness until late at night. Unfortunately, many middle and high schools start early! Find out if a later class schedule is an option. In any case, work with your teen to set a good bedtime. And teens who drive need to know NEVER to drive when sleepy.

Helpful steps include having your teen finish homework and turn off computer and TV at least 30 minutes before bed. Keep lights low. A light snack before bed can help growing teens sleep through the night. Finally, it’s probably a good idea to remove electronic devices, including TVs, from the bedroom.

Have more sleep questions? Join us for a live webchat with neurologist and autism sleep expert Dr. Beth Ann Malow, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, on Feb. 21, from 1 to 2 pm Eastern. Join via the Live Chat tab on left side of our Facebook page

Got more questions? Please send us an email at GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org.

New Findings Hold Promise for Revolutionary Pre-Symptom Screening

February 17, 2012 5 comments

 Posted by Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

I want to share my perspective on an important new research finding released today. The study is headed up by Joe Piven, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I am a co-author. The study followed the early brain development of 92 infant siblings, 28 of whom went on to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Infants were imaged using MRI at 6, 12 and 24 months. Those who later developed ASD showed abnormal development of white matter fiber tracts by 6 months. White matter is the part of the brain cell, or neuron, that connects one part of the brain to another. (See our related news item here.)

This finding tells us that, very early and before the emergence of behavioral symptoms, the neural networks that connect different brain regions are not developing normally in infant siblings who go on to develop autism. Previous studies of both children and adults have repeatedly shown that autism involves abnormal connectivity between different brain regions. In fact, my colleagues at the University of Washington and I did one of the first studies to show this.

Now we are seeing that these changes are evident by 6 months of age. Future research is needed to help us understand what is causing these early brain changes.

Why is this finding important?  First, it helps us understand why people with autism have trouble with complex behaviors such as social interactions. Even simple social behaviors involve coordination of many brain systems. For instance, when something catches a baby’s interest, the normal response is a combination of gestures, babbling and eye contact. This requires several brain regions to communicate efficiently with one another.

Even more important, these results offer promise of using imaging results or other “biomarkers” to flag risk of ASD before symptoms become evident. In other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, such early biomarkers are being used to identify those at risk and allow treatment to start before symptoms appear – to maximize benefits.

We can imagine the day when noninvasive brain imaging is available for babies at high risk for autism (such as infant siblings of affected children). When the imaging reveals tell-tale abnormalities, these babies can receive medical or behavioral treatments that stimulate normal brain development. For example, a recent study by Marcel Just demonstrates that certain reading interventions for children with reading disabilities produce positive changes in the children’s brain white matter, or neural connectivity.

So, it’s reasonable to consider that some of the changes we are seeing in 6-month-old infants might likewise be improved through early intervention. Just’s study suggests that such “rewiring” may possible even later in life with interventions that support the connectivity between different brain regions.

Parents who are concerned that their baby might be at risk for autism may be wondering whether they should ask their doctor to order an MRI. The results published today are too preliminary for that. We are not recommending MRI screening for autism at this point. The best way to screen for autism at this time is to look for early behavioral signs (see Learn the Signs) and use screening tools such as the M-CHAT.

The research published today was funded in part by Autism Speaks and would not be possible without our community’s passionate and continuing support. Thank you.

Why Autism Became My Career … A Love Story

February 14, 2012 7 comments

 Posted by AGRE Senior Recruitment Research Manager Tiffany Torigoe

In 2003, I moved to California from my native Hawaii. I’d just graduated from college, and I immediately accepted a job with Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) with one goal in mind: Start building my career in research!

I didn’t know that this job would become so much more.

Autism quickly became my passion. As I learned more about the complexities of autism, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of affected families. My interactions with AGRE parents and grandparents have been amazing. They have remarkable stories about their children and how each is wonderfully unique.

At the same time, I find it a great challenge to address some of their greatest concerns. I understand their urgent need for answers. But as someone trained in science, I also know that real answers sometimes take years to deliver. I remind our parents to never give up hope.

One of my most memorable interactions occurred at a Defeat Autism Now (DAN) conference several years ago. Autism Speaks had just started to become a prominent player within the autism community, and there was still apprehension about us. Unfortunately, I was not well equipped to answer some of the challenging political questions people asked me that day! I felt like a moving target and was left confused because I had thought we were all working towards the same goal: helping people with autism!

Just as I was packing up for the day, a man came over to the Autism Speaks table to talk with me. “I’ve been meaning to come over here all day,” he said. “I just want to thank you for being here. It means so much to us that you’re here to support us. Thank you.” To this day, whenever I feel lost in the politics and paperwork, I remember that moment and am reminded by why I’m here at AGRE.

Ultimately, I think the future of autism research lies in collaboration with scientists and families around the world. So it is very exciting to see AGRE’s mission begin to expand outside of North America. We know that autism is a global issue, and I think diversity is the glue that autism research needs to put all the pieces together.

In closing I want to thank all our supporters – those who Walk, those who participate in research, and everyone who cares about our mission to improve the lives of all who struggle with autism. Thank you so much. I love being part of this community.

Follow the hyperlinks to learn more about AGRE and current opportunities for participating in autism research. You can also explore the studies we’re funding using our grant search.

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