Sleep problems may be best considered a skill deficit, one that is common especially in children and youth with autism and developmental disabilities (63-80%, compared to 35-50% of typically developing young children). Sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting enough sleep) are associated with higher levels of severe problem behavior (meltdowns, aggression, self-injury), stereotypic self-stimulatory behavior, and noncompliance. Sleep problems also interfere with learning. Although there is a notion that children eventually grow out of the developmental phase characterized by sleep disturbance, these problems tend to persist and do not simply subside as children grow older. Persistent sleep problems in childhood are associated with childhood and adult obesity, adolescent behavioral and emotional problems, anxiety in adulthood, and sleep problems through adulthood. Children’s sleep problems also negatively affect parents and are associated with marital discord and maternal malaise and depression. The good news is that all children can learn to be great, or at least better, sleepers, and so can their parents.
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