Emma Baker, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, OTARC Alumni, on the types and causes of sleep problems in adults with autism
By Jackie Maya, OTARC 2014 Honours student
Many mothers with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than mothers with typically developing children and those rearing children with other disabilities. But we don’t know which factors contribute to or protect against these negative outcomes. Being from a migrant family, I wondered whether mothers from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds would experience more or less stress, anxiety and depression in reaction to having a child with ASD than Australian mothers. Based on other research, we also thought that different coping skills may influence how mothers react. These are the questions I explored for my Honours project with Dr Kristelle Hudry and Dr Josephine Barbaro at OTARC. We were particularly interested in the reactions and coping skills of mothers whose child had recently been diagnosed with ASD.
Many people with ASD report problems with sleep, but most ASD sleep research to date has focused on children and adolescents, with only a few studies involving adults with ASD. We also know very little about which aspects of sleep are problematic; is it difficulties with going to sleep (sleep onset latency), staying asleep (total sleep time), frequent waking during the night (wake after sleep onset), or less total sleep. There is also very little research into how daytime functioning is affected in adults with ASD who sleep poorly. One of our students, Emma Baker, has therefore decided to study sleep problems and how they are related to daytime functioning in adults with ASD. Emma is studying for her PhD under the supervision of Associate Professor Amanda Richdale who is one of the international experts on sleep problems associated with ASD.