Sleep disturbance is not associated with age and IQ in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and disruptive behaviors, according to Cynthia R. Johnson, PhD, and her associates.

They assessed 177 children aged 3-7 who were participating in the Research Units on Behavioral Intervention study, a 24-week trial. All of the children had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, based on DSM-IV criteria. The diagnoses were corroborated by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised .

The children were randomized into a parent training group or a parent education group. After getting parents to complete several forms, including the Children’s Sleep Habits Questionnaire , Dr. Johnson and her associates found no age differences between children who fell into the category of “good sleepers” (n = 52), and those characterized as “poor sleepers” (n = 46) (P = .57). In both sleep groups, more than 70% of the children had an IQ of 70 or above, and no significant difference was found in good sleepers, compared with poor sleepers, in IQ variable (P = .87) (Sleep Med. 2018. 44:61-6).

In addition, the researchers found that poor sleepers had significantly higher scores on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist subscales of irritability, hyperactivity, stereotypic behavior, and social withdrawal/lethargy, compared with good sleepers. All subscales of the parenting stress index and the PSI total score also were significantly higher in the poor sleepers group, compared with children in the good sleepers group, reported Dr. Johnson of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and her associates.

Additional studies are needed within a “comprehensive biopsychosocial model” to advance the understanding of why some children with autism experience disrupted sleep patterns and others do not. “Our findings support the value of screening for sleep disturbances in all children with ASD, regardless of age and cognitive level,” Dr. Johnson and her associates concluded. “With improved sleep, better outcomes for children with ASD could be expected.”

Read the full study in Sleep Medicine