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Autism expert reveals link with kids' sleep problems

Candy Chan and Lorraine Ho

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Sleep problems and autism often run hand-in-hand in children, a pediatrics specialist claims.

"We found that the worse the disorder of autism, the worse the sleep disturbance. These children also had less deep sleep [or rapid eye movement]," said Sylvia Doo, who heads the Child Development and Assessment Centre at the private St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay.

Research conducted by Doo in 2006 revealed nearly 70percent of parents reported their autistic children had sleep problems.

The research, involving 193 patients, with the average age of three, found the most common problem was that an autistic child refused to sleep at bedtime.


"Sleep problems are widespread, early onset and persist as the child grows," she said yesterday.

Launched on June 1, the center aims to promote parenting skills to help children with all sorts of behavioral problems.

Doo said it is a "relatively new" center in that it provides a one-stop service from assessment to treatment.

Many parents suffer after a stressful day with youngsters who have to be given occupational and other forms of therapy.

"A lack of a good night's sleep can affect not only the child, but everyone in his or her family," Doo said.

Autistic children do not respond to stimuli such as day and night and follow their own patterns of behavior.

As such, these children have poor quality of sleep, waking frequently.

Autism, which is a developmental brain disorder, includes a wide range of symptoms such as difficulty in social communication, expressing emotions or obsessive behavior.

"The most important thing is to build a regular sleeping habit," said Doo, because sleeping problems lead to other problems during the day as well.

"They don't have the ideal amount of energy."

Doo said parents should establish strict and appropriate bedtime routines.

If the problem persists, they should seek medical help for their child.

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