October 14, 2020/Neurosciences

Treating Sleep Disturbances in Young Children With Autism

Parent training intervention leads to significant improvement in sleep problems


Up to 80% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also have at least moderate sleep disturbances. Disordered sleep in children with autism can amplify already delayed social interactions, repetitive behaviors, affective problems, inattention/hyperactivity and irritability.


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In a prior NIH-funded study (R34MH082882), the principal investigator, Cynthia R. Johnson, PhD, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Autism, showed that a five-session, individually delivered parent training intervention for young children with ASD and sleep disturbances resulted in significant improvements in sleep problems compared with the control group, which received five sessions of an education program relevant to young children with ASD.1

This study was delivered in a tertiary, specialized setting requiring parents to make many trips to an urban area; some families traveled over two hours to participate. Now, with funding from the Department of Defense, Dr. Johnson and her team will further test this manualized parent training program specifically targeting bedtime and sleep disturbance but delivered via a telehealth platform. This four-year randomized control trial is actively recruiting (email autismresearch@ccf.org for more information). If we demonstrate that this manualized parent training program specifically targeting sleep disturbances can be delivered with fidelity and efficacy via a telehealth platform, this has broad implications for clinical service delivery to reach children and families living at a distance from a specialized autism center.


  1. Johnson CR, Turner KS, Foldes E, et al. Behavioral parent training to address sleep disturbances in young children with autism spectrum disorder: a pilot trial. Sleep Med. 2013 Oct; 14(10):995-1004.

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