The investigators, from New York’s Stony Brook University, urge doctors and behavioral therapists to give more attention to assessing and treating pain and sleep problems in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The researchers used online postings to recruit 62 mothers of children with autism as study participants. Fourteen of the children were nonverbal, partially verbal or using assisted-communication devices. The rest were fully verbal.
All the mothers filled out a standard assessment of pain-related behaviors for populations with communication difficulties. This scored the frequency of behaviors such as seeking comfort, frowning, whining or holding a part of the body such as the stomach. More than 90 percent of the sample scored above the test level that flags a high possibility of chronic pain (7 or more on a scale of 49).
The mothers also completed a standard measure of their children’s sleep habits. Ninety-three percent scored above the level indicating chronic sleep problems (41 or higher on a scale of 99).
When comparing the results of the two questionnaires, the researchers found a direct relationship between higher scores for pain-related behavior and disrupted sleep.