Correlations Between Sensory Processing Symptoms and Sleep Disturbances Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
9:00 AM
M. G. Mosner1, L. E. Bradstreet2, L. Guy1, R. Schaaf3, R. T. Schultz4 and M. C. Souders5, (1)Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Center for Autism Research, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, (3)Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, (4)Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia,, PA, (5)Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Delayed sleep onset and short sleep duration are functions of arousal dysregulation and are commonly reported for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In a study by Souders et al. (2009), parents reported that their children’s hypersensitivity to environmental stimuli may have contributed in part to their sleep disturbances. Sensory modulation disorders can also be viewed as reflecting difficulties with arousal regulation.  Upwards of 90% of individuals with ASD demonstrate unusual sensory symptoms that interfere with their daily routines (Baranek, et al, 2006).  However, despite personal accounts and a growing body of evidence regarding the disability associated with poor sensory processing among individuals with ASD, (O-Riordan et al., 2006), these symptoms are poorly characterized among this population, the underlying mechanisms are not well understood, and current practices to address sensory problems lack an adequate theoretical basis and empirical data to support their utility (Rogers & Ozonoff, 2005). In addition, few studies have explored the role of sensory impairments as a contributor to sleep disturbance in an ASD population.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between sleep disturbance and sensory processing impairments in a well-characterized sample of children with ASD. Our specific focus was to determine if higher rates of sleep disturbance are associated with particular sensory symptoms within this population.

Methods: The preliminary sample included 22 individuals with ASD ages 6-10 years of age (M=7.64, SD=1.39) and 25 typically developing control individuals (M=7.60, SD=1.38) matched for IQ. All subjects were part of a larger neuroimaging study at the Center for Autism Research. The diagnosis of ASD was confirmed using ADI-R and ADOS, and IQ was assessed using the DAS-II. Sleep disturbance was measured by parent report using the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire (CSHQ; Owens, 2000), which yields a total Sleep Disturbance score and 8 subscale scores. The subscales of Sleep Onset Delay and Sleep Duration were the focus for this project. The scores from the Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1999), a parent-report measure, were used to measure sensory processing symptoms.  This measure classifies individuals into the subgroups of Sensory Sensitive, Sensory Avoiding (low threshold groups), Low Registration and Sensation Seeking (high threshold groups). Additionally, a total score for the Short Sensory Profile (SSP) was calculated. 

Results: Data collection is ongoing. Preliminary analyses indicated that the ASD group demonstrated more sensory processing symptoms overall on the SSP, t(31.23)=-6.00, p=.00. There were no group differences on the CSHQ Total, t(45)=-.31, p=.76. No significant correlations were found between sleep disturbance and the Sensory Profile domain scores or the Short Sensory Profile total. Additional analyses will explore this relationship in more detail.

Conclusions: Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between sleep disturbance and sensory modulation disorders among children with ASD may aid in the development of more effective interventions tailored to individuals based on their particular sensory deficits.

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