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Sleep research for parents of children with ASD expanded

Feb. 25, 2016, 9:51 AM

The expansion of sleep education sessions through a research study will allow more parents to learn effective sleep strategies for children with autism spectrum disorder.

Three additional pediatric practices within the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network (VHAN) will begin offering the sessions in conjunction with community therapists. The sessions were launched last year at Mercy Community Healthcare in Franklin.

The sessions teach parents how to smoothly transition their children from electronic devices to other activities before bedtime, develop dietary habits to improve their sleep, better understand their circadian rhythms and entice them into appropriately timed exercise routines.

The program, which is designed for ages 3 to 12, also sets up an easy-to-use accountability system to track success in implementing these changes and other actions.

Beth Malow, M.D.

“In a brief educational session you can teach a parent to do all these things with a child,” said Beth Malow, M.D., Burry Professor of Cognitive Childhood Development, professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigator and director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Division.

“These educational sessions will allow us to increase access to sleep care in the community we serve.”

Atia Jordan, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, is a co-investigator on this project.
Children wear actigraphy watches that detect motion so sleep-wake patterns can be monitored. Parents report progress through REDCap surveys. Teachers and/or school therapists are asked to participate by completing forms that track classroom behavior.

“The kids are sleeping better so their behavior is better,” said Malow, who co-chairs the national sleep committee for the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.

The parental support will be offered this year at Rivergate Pediatrics, Goodlettsville Pediatrics and Hendersonville Children’s Clinic. A Strategic Research Award from the American Sleep Medicine Foundation funded the expansion.

The rollout of the program last year received support from a Meharry-Vanderbilt Community Engagement and Research Core grant.

The program is set up so it can be taught to parents by a speech therapist, behavioral therapist or occupational therapist. Play Ball Children’s Therapy will provide the service at the three pediatric clinics coming into the program. Coordinators for the study include Bethany Drury, Lydia Macdonald and Deb Wofford.

“This collaboration is an example of how VHAN relationships benefit Vanderbilt researchers, independent clinics and the families that we all serve,” said Wayne Jenkins, M.D., MPH, chief clinical care officer of VHAN.

The set of actions to improve sleep patterns in children with autism spectrum disorder were developed over a decade at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Malow co-authored a book, “Solving Sleep Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Guide for Frazzled Families,” based on this research.

The sessions, which are based on that book, provide parents with an accountability system and greater support.

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