Sleep Difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

“Definitive” is a mighty powerful word whose importance increases in inverse proportion to its use. The Hughes Brothers are about to use “definitive” as the go-to description for this epic piece of scholarship from Kenneth J. Aitken. Dr. Aitken has dedicated his career as a clinical psychologist (He’s based in Edinburgh, Scotland.) to building a better understanding of autism spectrum disorders and related conditions. His research endeavors are everywhere, and he has published numerous academic and popular articles on ASD.

The former sort of publications, those directed to health-care professionals and to scientists involved in the study of Autism Spectrum Disorders, have brought Dr. Aitken universal sorts of collegial respect. His articles directed to physicians treating and families living through ASD have earned him enduring gratitude. And while the book does include the newest ideas about sleep disorders in these young people, Sleep Difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Guide for Parents and Professionals brings along an encyclopedic accumulation of all best thinking about the problem. In this regard, one scholar of ASD referred to Dr. Aitken as “old school,” a term of endearment for sure, especially as these remarkable people with comprehensive knowledge of autism and its effects dwindle in number.

As they begin their read, both doctors and parents should remind themselves that protocols and medications and behavior modifications which did not work at a younger age in a child’s life might still prove effective in, say, the youngster’s teenage years. The book’s sheer scope is most welcome, in that here in one compendium lie all the proven remedies for sleep disorders amid a thorough discussion of the undercover problems associated with ASD.

In fact, the book addresses the nature of sleep itself. In a thoughtful and typically focused section, Dr. Aitken serves up a clinical – but still quite readable – understanding of one-third of our lives. He ranges over biological clocks and dreams and circadian patterns and the consumption of alcohol beforehand and diet and genetics and brain development and social interaction and infantile self-soothing just for starters. When this man concludes his discussion, there remains nothing, just nothing more to be said.

And then Dr. Aitken takes off on a sad accounting of the ways our sleep patterns may be made worse: maternal moods, metabolic and physiological factors, obesity, genetic considerations. All this said, it’s in the analysis of all the various treatments for sleep disorders over the years, however, does Sleep Difficulties and Autism Spectrum Disorders achieve its full impact – and does so with equal impact for clinicians at the prescribing end of the deal and parents and families seeking ever better ways of managing those difficult hours before, during, and in the night following bedtime. At, conveniently, page 100 comes the book’s assessment of all these issues and the consequent “basic sleep clean-up” to follow. Our author breaks sleep problems into their specific – and therefore more precisely treatable – character. Look for interventions related to difficulty settling to sleep, to frequent night waking, to shortness of sleep or excessive sleep, to nightmares and night terrors, to night-time eating disorders, to nocturnal seizures, to rhythmic movement disorder, to sleep apnea, to bedwetting, to restless leg syndrome. Never in our reading lives have the Hughes Brothers seen such a thorough accounting of what we’ve always called “a rough night.”

At last then, Dr. Aitken compresses tons of information about responses to all the disorders cataloged above. He begins, appropriately, with medications before moving on to what he calls “complementary and alternative treatment approaches”: acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractics, dietary intervention, exercise, homeopathy, hypnosis, massage therapy, meditation, psychotherapy, relaxation, light therapy, biofeedback and, yes, yoga. He reserves a separate appendix for herbal treatments, occidental and oriental alike.

We Hugheses applaud Dr. Aitken’s decision to reserve special attention for sleep diaries – a tool that has helped our family personally and our nieces professionally.

Our opening statement used the word “definitive.” If the lists created just now do not register definitiveness in your mind . . . well, old friend . . . you need a good night’s sleep.