Research Round-Up #2

Girl listening with headphones

Research Round-Up #2

Melatonin may ease autistic children’s sleep troubles
Children with autism often have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. This study by Beth Malow at Vanderbilt University looked into the safety of melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement used as a sleep aid. Eighty children aged 2-17 years, most of which had autism and a few with Smith-Magnesis syndrome, took a slow-release form of melatonin called PedPRM for 91 weeks with the option to increase the dosage if needed. The children had significant improvements in sleep and quality of life. Researchers also found that PedPRM did not delay puberty for these children, which was an initial concern due to the melatonin hormone. This study shows that melatonin can be a safe and helpful way for children with autism to get a good night’s sleep, which can also lead to improvements in general quality of life.

Expressive language development in adolescents with Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome: change over time and the role of family-related factors. 
Down syndrome (DS) and fragile X syndrome (FXS) often coincide with early language difficulties. Researchers at the MIND Institute in California were interested in finding out how expressive language changes over time, and whether or not those changes are syndrome specific. The expressive language skills of 57 adolescent males with intellectual disabilities (20 DS and 37 FXS) were analyzed. Family-related predictors such as maternal IQ, maternal psychological distress, closeness of the mother-child relationship, maternal and paternal level of education, and family income were also analyzed to see the roles they played in predicting expressive language.
Over the span of three years, adolescents with DS and FXS had increased in talkativeness but decreased in amount of words spoken and complexity. The participants with FXS displayed a greater increase in talkativeness than those with DS. In addition, participants whose mothers had a college education displayed greater talkativeness over time compared to those whose mothers had a high school education. This research could benefit children by helping clinicians identify the strengths and weaknesses in expressive language in children with DS and FXS, as well as help treat the children in the areas they could improve such as number of words spoken and their complexity.

Music improves social communication and auditory–motor connectivity in children with autism.
Music can be used as a tool in therapy to help improve mood and reduce stress. More specifically, music therapy could be beneficial for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this study, 51 children with ASD aged 6-12 years were randomly chosen to receive either music (26 children) or non-music intervention (25 children). The music intervention used song and rhythm to target social communication, while the non-music intervention used structurally matched behavioral intervention. Children who participated in music intervention improved in social communication, social relations, and interests. In addition, brain functional connectivity was greater in children who received music vs non-music intervention. The results of this study suggest that music therapy can be a useful tool by reducing sensory distractions and improving social communication skills.

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