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Digital study to evaluate how behavior strategies impact sleep in children with autism

Oct. 31, 2019, 11:23 AM


by Holly Fletcher

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Autism Treatment Network Site is recruiting nationally for a study on how to improve sleep in children with autism using a behavioral intervention given to parents entirely online, tracked by a digital portal.

Night waking, bedtime resistance and difficulty falling asleep are common in children with autism. The study will guide families with a child aged 2 to 10 years through daytime strategies to target better sleep habits at night. Families can be anywhere in the U.S. The program is open to both English-speaking and bilingual families who speak both Spanish and English fluently.

“Educating parents on different strategies for sleep works, but the challenge is meeting their needs in a way that works for the family,” said Beth Malow, MD, MS, Burry Chair in cognitive childhood development, professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigator, and director of Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Division at VUMC.

Each component of the study from consent to baseline surveys and intervention is online and accessible. The study, funded by the Autism Intervention Network on Physical Health, will provide a digital tablet to participants who don’t have one. Researchers are also interested in how parents interact with materials, how often they are used and in what order, and whether those factors impact outcomes.

With the support of the VUMC DataCore and Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap), Malow and colleagues looked to the ease of digital portals for the study to decrease the time commitment for families.

“We wanted to make this study accessible to families wherever they are and get away from the notion that you have to come to the physical campus. If you live four hours away, accessibility is one of the most exciting features of this study. We’d love to get families from all over the country to participate,” said Malow. “Improving sleep can help with daytime behaviors and family functioning.”

In addition to VUMC, the Lurie Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California Irvine are also participating.

Enrollment runs through January 2020. Contact Deborah Wofford at or 615-936-2004 for more information.

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