Dan Slage, an electrical engineer in Winter Park, Florida, noticed two of his work colleagues showing up at the office bleary-eyed and cranky. Both were parents of children with autism spectrum (ASD) who regularly woke up fully alert and ready to play in the middle of the night.
Slage’s colleagues weren’t alone. Researchers believe 40 to 86 percent of children on the autism spectrum have sleep disorders, according to a study reported in Journal of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Many of the children reverse days and nights, waking up in the wee hours ready to play. When the children don’t sleep, the entire family can suffer from sleep deprivation. And lack of sleep can reduce the family’s ability to cope with challenging life circumstances.
Slage, an inveterate tinkerer, set his mind to finding a solution.
Slage quickly learned that standard behavior modification techniques intended to reset the body clock don’t typically work for some children due to cognitive issues. Often, the children can’t read a clock.
Many parents had little choice but to resort to sleep-inducing medication. Drugs seemed more of a bandage than a solution. Drugs carry the potential for unwanted side effects and can diminish in effectiveness over time requiring ever larger doses.
Slage developed a device he called the Bed Timeframe. The Bed Timeframe is a clock-like device which incorporates into its design the latest science on autism, sleep disorders, time anxiety, and the effect of light wavelength on sleep.
Using the Bed Timeframe in conjunction with standard behavior modification techniques, which had failed to work alone, Slage’s co-workers were able to train their children in less than two weeks to sleep through the night.
A small study at the University of Central Florida in Orlando confirmed that the Bed Timeframe works.
The Bed Timeframe is one of the few products designed specifically to improve the lives of children with autism and their families. Slage currently is preparing for a campaign to raise money to manufacture the Bed Timeframe on a large scale to make the device widely available to the millions of families in search of a solution to sleep problems.
The Bed Timeframe is a simple device that looks in the daytime like a picture in a frame. But at night, the Bed Timeframe intuitively conveys the passage of time through a progression of low red lights across an arc, much like ancient people followed the sun’s movement across the sky.
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At night in the dark, the picture melts from view as the internal electronics display an arc of light which sweeps slowly from left to right, beginning at the child’s bedtime and ending at an optimal time decided by the parents. When the child begins to rouse in the middle of the night, he grasps immediately without conscious thought that the light progression has not yet ended and he should return to sleep.
To gauge interest and further prove the concept, Slage brought the Timeframe to Terri Daly, director of the University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD). Daly reported: The test launched with four families of children with ASD ages four to seven who agreed to participate in a four-week project evaluating the Bed Timeframe. At the beginning of the project, all indicated that their child woke up four to eight times per week in the night after being put to bed and initially falling asleep. All reported their child followed a bedtime routine, and a variety of unsuccessful methods had been attempted to decrease getting out of bed after being put to sleep, including incentives, punishment, nightlights, music, and allowing the child to sleep with parents. All reported that the child’s night waking had interfered with their own sleep during the prior week. The parents completed a pre-program questionnaire, were taught to complete a data sheet that tracked night wakings, and a four-week follow-up survey.
Daly reported: On the post-program questionnaire (which was the same as the pre-program questionnaire), three of four families indicated their child’s wakings had dropped to 1–2 per week, and that they believed their child’s sleep had increased by 1–2 hours over baseline levels per night. Two of three families indicated that they had seen improvement in their child’s sleep and that they had also seen an increase in the child’s ability to remain in their bed throughout the night. The families who had seen decreases in night waking did attribute it to the use of the Timeframe. Here is what one family wrote:
“The Timeframe works. We were interrupted by the flu. He did adhere to the light. I believe he understood there was more time to sleep viewing the frame in the middle of the night. If possible, I would like to purchase a frame.”
Daly concluded: While additional subjects would improve the robustness of this preliminary data, it appears that the Timeframe is a low effort way to decrease night wakings and out-of-bed time after being put to sleep for a majority of families of children with ASD who tried it.
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The Bed Timeframe is an important break-through for a serious problem. The overall dangers of sleep deprivation are well-known. Lack of sleep jeopardizes everyone’s physical health and mental wellbeing, ability to learn, and productivity and safety on the job. For children on the spectrum, sleep deprivation also appears to increase aggression, depression, hyperactivity, irritability, learning and cognitive performance and other behavioral issues.
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This article was featured in Issue 76 – Raising A Child with Autism