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Kids’ Sleep, Ear Troubles May Point To Autism


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Frequent ear infections and waking up multiple times per night are among a growing list of potential early signs of autism, new research suggests.

Kids who were later diagnosed with the developmental disorder were more likely to have trouble sleeping at 9-months-old, according to findings published in the Journal of Early Intervention. Such children also had a greater number of ear infections than their typically-developing peers.

For the study, researchers compared data on about 100 children with autism to that of typically-developing kids who were part of the federal government’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracked the development of 14,000 children born in 2001 from birth until kindergarten.

At age 2, the study found that kids who were later diagnosed with autism scored lower on measures of communication, motor skills and social interaction. They were also more likely to “tune out” from activities, had difficulty re-engaging and needed longer to calm down when they became upset, researchers said.

“Different specialists who work with children with ASD are each focused on specific problems, but this research gathers all those pieces of information together and provides a much bigger picture,” said Laurie Jeans, a professor of early childhood education at St. Ambrose University in Iowa who led the study.

The findings add to evidence that autism can be reliably diagnosed at age 2. At present, however, most children are not diagnosed until after age 4, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The sooner that you can catch some of these behaviors and intervene, the better their chances for developing good skills and being able to participate in school, academically and socially,” said co-author Rosa Milagros Santos Gilbertz of the University of Illinois.

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Comments (10 Responses)

  1. Genesis says:

    This isn’t new…. I’m autistic, and I remember having ear infections since I was 2 to 4 years old in the 1990s!

  2. Chaya Levine says:

    This is an important study. Parents need to be aware of deviations in their babies/toddlers behavior. The article points out something vital: Catching it early and treating or correcting to behaviors can go a long way in benefitting the long term development socially, emotionally and mentally.

  3. aspiemom says:

    “potential early signs of autism”

    “Kids who were later diagnosed with”

    Hooray! Language that acknowledges that autism has been there since birth! Not “kids at risk if developing autism”, as if symptoms and signs were causation!

    Maybe a few parents who’ve been hoping their kids wouldn’t “develop” autism will look for a diagnosis sooner, and their kids will get specialized education and services that much earlier.

  4. Lisa says:

    Geez, this will scare a lot of people needlessly. 100 children is not a large enough study group to result in any statistically significant results. Both of my children went through these issues, but only my youngest has autism. More significant red flags would be lack of eye contact, lack of play skills, odd pre-occupations with parts of toys, not looking when name is called, lack of emotion, etc.

  5. Stephanie says:

    As much as I want to know what causes autism, making this type of blanket statement based on a study of 100 children seems very irresponsible. A study with so few participants can hardly be statistically significant. On a side note, my 2 children with autism never had ear infections or problems sleeping. I wish researchers would stop throwing out autism “correlations” based on poor research. All these reports do is misguide and needlesly alarm people.

  6. Angela says:

    It makes sense. Both my boys had lots of ear infections. The oldest had tubes put in at age 3. He was diagnosised with aspergers at third grade. The other son has ODD/ADHD. I also have ear infections a lot and trouble sleeping. The oldest has night terrors since age of 2.

  7. Rebecca says:

    They only studied Autistic kids and found this correlation and informing the public besides being non-verbal here is another indicator to perceive screening. My son too, suffered ear infections but unfortunately with Autism my son couldn’t speak and let us know of his pain. He ended up getting used to it and his pediatrician didn’t catch it either. Finally his early start teacher told us to get check by an ENT. Always go with a specialist not your pediatrician!!!! You will end up seeing one eventually so might as well do it ASAP.

  8. Rebecca says:

    What they should had done is studied 100 kids that were seen by an ENT and then find out how many of them had a DX of Autism.

  9. Christine says:

    I would encourage everyone who is interested in this topic to read the full research article (click on “published” in this article). It talks through the methodology and sample. This was actually a rigorous study with sound statistical analysis published in a highly-rated, peer-reviewed research journal. While 100 might seem small, it is a large sample size compared to similar studies focused on very young children with autism. As stated in the article,
    “The current study is the first to look at the characteristics and behaviors of the children with ASD as reported by parents and assessed by professionals prior to the diagnosis of the disability. The data collection occurred “in the moment” rather than relying on parental memory and gives an accurate representation of the children with ASD in their early years.” Also, “Sample weights were applied for all analyses across all time points as directed by the NCES to allow for generalizability of study findings.”

  10. A G Gordon says:

    This study does not produce new ideas, as these results were predicted many years ago. Since 1976 I have been pointing out in the academic literature the connection between autism and ear infections, which is not coincidental since autism is a type of peripheral hearing disorder. The best single predictor of autism of the thousands of measures in the ALSPAC longitudinal study was whether the child pulled its ear, a sure sign of ear infection.

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