Sleep and developmental disorders
But outside of learning new words, this research could also help to better understand developmental disorders. This is because children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia often have sleep problems and as part of our research, we are looking at how these sleep problems impact on children’s learning.
Sleep difficulties are thought to affect up to 86% of the ASD population, and given that we know about sleep and the learning of vocabulary, it’s clear these sleepless nights could be having a damaging impact on these children’s lives.
Levels of vocabulary in children with ASD vary dramatically. While some children have typical or above average vocabularies, many children with ASD show delays in early language acquisition – and often have smaller vocabularies than expected for their age. Researchers cannot currently explain this diversity, but it is suspected that sleep difficulties play a key part.
And our own research has also shown that children with ASD show almost the reverse pattern in terms of word learning and sleeping – so sleep doesn’t seem to have the same memory making impact for these children in terms of vocabulary.
Impact on education
Our research is now beginning to untangle whether sleep difficulties might impact on learning difficulties in children with autism. And we are doing this by recording brain activity while children sleep in their own beds.
As yet, there has been no investigation into how poor sleep patterns may impact on the language learning difficulties that characterise ASD. So this is exactly what our research aims to address.