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Treatment of Sleep Disturbances in Young Children With Autism

This study has been completed.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
University of Pittsburgh Identifier:
First received: March 22, 2011
Last updated: August 11, 2015
Last verified: January 2015

This study will compare the efficacy of a behavioral parent training program (PT) aimed specifically at common sleep disturbances compared to parent education (PE) program focusing on general issues related to autism. In a sample of 40 well characterized young children who meet criteria for an autism spectrum disorder (24-72 months), the investigators will test whether the five session PT program is superior to the PE program in decreasing sleep disturbances.

The primary aim of this study is to evaluate the efficacy and feasibility of a PT program for sleep disturbance in young children with autism compared to PE.

To this end, there are two hypothesis:

  • Hypothesis 1: After the end of treatment, PT will be significantly more effective than PE in improving parent reports of a) bedtime struggles and resistance; b) sleep latency; c) night wakings; d) morning wakings; and / or e) sleep association problems as measured by the composite sleep index score from the modified Simonds and Parraga Sleep Questionnaire (MSPSQ; Simond & Parraga, 1982; Wiggs & Stores, 1998).
  • Hypothesis 2: At the end of treatment, children in the PT group (n=20) will display significantly improved total sleep period as measured by actigraphy in comparison to children in the PE group (n=20).

The secondary aim of this study is to evaluate the impact of participating in PT on child's daytime behavior and functioning and parenting stress compared to PE.

To measure this aim, there are 4 exploratory hypothesis:

  • Exploratory Hypothesis 1: Lower Irritability subscales scores will be reported on both parent and teacher / therapist completed Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) for the PT group than the PE group at 4 weeks and 8 weeks
  • Exploratory Hypothesis 2: Lower Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; parent completed) and Caregiver-Teacher Report Form (C-TRF; teacher completed) scores will be reported for the PT group than the PE group at 4 weeks and 8 weeks.
  • Exploratory Hypothesis 3: The PT group will have higher scores on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales: 2nd Edition (VABS-II) at 4 weeks and 8 weeks compared to PE group.
  • Exploratory Hypothesis 4: Parents receiving PT will report significantly lower scores on the Parenting Stress Index (PSI) at 4 weeks and 8 weeks compared to parents receiving PE.

Condition Intervention
Autism Autism Spectrum Disorders Behavioral: ParentTraining Other: Parent Education

Study Type: Interventional
Study Design: Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
Masking: None (Open Label)
Primary Purpose: Treatment
Official Title: Treatment of Sleep Disturbances in Young Children With Autism

Resource links provided by NLM:

Further study details as provided by University of Pittsburgh:

Primary Outcome Measures:
  • Modified Simond & Parraga Sleep Questionnaire (MSPSQ) - Composite Sleep Index [ Time Frame: Baseline, Week 4, and Week 8 ]
    The MSPSQ used by Wiggs and colleagues (Wiggs & Stores, 1996 ; Wiggs & Stores, 1999 : Wiggs & Stores, 2004) was used to assess the child's sleep quality. It was completed by the primary caregiver for both groups at baseline and at weeks 4 and 8. Using Wiggs & Stores earlier-described conventions for determining the Composite Sleep Index (CSI) score, the CSI was calculated by assigning a score to the frequency of the targeted sleep problems: bedtime resistance, night awakening, early awakening, and sleeping in places other than bed. In addition, scores were assigned for the duration of sleep latency and night awakenings. The total CSI score ranged from 0 to 12, with higher scores indicating more severe bedtime and sleep patterns.

  • Actigraphy - Sleep Efficiency [ Time Frame: Baseline, Week 4, Week 8 ]
    Measure of sleep efficiency defined as the percentage of time sleeping while in bed with lights off

  • Actigraphy - Sleep Latency [ Time Frame: Baseline, Week 4, Week 8 ]
    Measure of sleep latency defined by the time from lights off to sleep onset.

Secondary Outcome Measures:
  • Actigraphy - Total Sleep Time [ Time Frame: Baseline, Week 4, Week 8 ]
    Measure of total time spent asleep using Motionlogger model actigraph by Ambulatory Monitoring, Inc. ( and algorithms in associated software.

Enrollment: 40
Study Start Date: December 2009
Study Completion Date: January 2013
Primary Completion Date: November 2012 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)
Arms Assigned Interventions
Experimental: Parent Training
Behavioral Intervention
Behavioral: ParentTraining
5 sessions of individual parent training
Other Names:
  • Behavioral intervention
  • Psychoeducational intervention
Active Comparator: Parent Education
5 Sessions of individual parent education
Other: Parent Education
Parent Education to control for time and attention
Other Name: Control

Detailed Description:

Autism Spectrum Disorders (Autistic Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Asperger Disorder) are severe developmental disorders of early childhood onset affecting as many as 1 in 150 children (Center for Disease Control & Prevention, 2007). They characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication, as well as repetitive behavior and restricted interests (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Given the severity and the prevalence, autism is a significant public health issue. Recent years have seen both an increase in the prevalence of autism and an improved ability to diagnose the disorder much earlier (Fombonne, 2003). It is during the child's early years when it is generally agreed that intensive interventions are most likely to improve long term prognosis (National Research Council, 2001). While not a core feature of autism, it is widely accepted that a large percentage children with autism spectrum disorders (autism) present with significant sleep issues (Honomichl, Goodlin-Jones, Burnham, Gaylor & Anders, 2002; Johnson, 1996; Wiggs & Stores, 2004). Sleep problems in typically developing children are known to adversely impact daytime functioning, learning acquisition, as well as parenting and family functioning (Dahl, 1996; Ebert & Drake, 2004; Sadeh, Gruber, & Raviv; 2002; Sadeh, Raviv, & Gruber, 2000). For young children with autism whose development is already compromised by a range of deficits, the detrimental impact of sleep disturbances may be even more significant. However, the impact of sleep disturbances on optimal performance in behavioral and education interventions have not been systematically explored.

This study will conduct a randomized clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of a behavioral parent training program in the amelioration of sleep disturbances in young children with autism. This work will be used to examine the feasibility, acceptability and efficacy of a behavior training program for sleep disturbance in children with autism. It represents a low cost and rapid clinical approach to the problem in this younger age group.


Ages Eligible for Study:   24 Months to 72 Months   (Child)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder
  • Presence of sleep disturbance

Exclusion Criteria:

  • Medical etiology of sleep disturbance
  Contacts and Locations
Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the Contacts provided below. For general information, see Learn About Clinical Studies.

Please refer to this study by its identifier: NCT01322022

United States, Pennsylvania
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Autism Cetner
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, 15217
Sponsors and Collaborators
University of Pittsburgh
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Principal Investigator: Cynthia R Johnson, PhD U of Pittsburgh
  More Information

Responsible Party: University of Pittsburgh Identifier: NCT01322022     History of Changes
Other Study ID Numbers: PRO09070340
R34MH082882 ( U.S. NIH Grant/Contract )
Study First Received: March 22, 2011
Results First Received: December 4, 2014
Last Updated: August 11, 2015

Keywords provided by University of Pittsburgh:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Sleep Problems
Sleep Disturbances

Additional relevant MeSH terms:
Autistic Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Child Development Disorders, Pervasive
Sleep Wake Disorders
Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Mental Disorders
Nervous System Diseases
Neurologic Manifestations
Signs and Symptoms processed this record on September 19, 2017