A possible night-time solution for children with autism

Many children with autism spectrum disorder struggle with sleeping disorders, which can have a negative effect on their own life and the ones around them. A new sleeping bag developed by researchers at the University of Borås in Sweden might be able to help.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often find it difficult to fall asleep or to maintain uninterrupted sleep for a long enough period of time. One study showed that about 73% of parents of children with ASD reported their children suffering from various sleeping related disorders. This affects not only their general health but also daytime activities, and presents the risk of the development of other cognitive and behavioral deficiencies. Such disturbances are actually caused by hypersensitivity that can be treated therapeutically.

To detect the sleeping pattern of the child, an appropriate sensor system can be placed around the bed.

One straightforward solution would be the presence of a parent or caregiver to soothe the child during sleep. However, for many practical reasons this is not possible to be provided for in most cases. A smarter solution would be to create an environment and/or device that can actuate such soothing sensation without any external human help. To detect the sleeping pattern of the child, an appropriate sensor system can be placed around the bed. An artificial soothing sensation can be provided through a deep pressure as very kindly demonstrated by Temple Grandin in her literature and in the movie based on her life. Additional calming sensations can be given to the child through vibrating motions.

Fig. 1 (taken from the article) Schematic (a) and physical (b) representation of the developed sleeping bag

Our sleeping place consists of a high number of textile-related products, for example mattress, blanket, sleeping bag, etc. Therefore these products can be integrated with smart technological solutions for an ideal sleeping environment for children with ASD. With this vision, a pilot design project was conducted by our group. We developed a smart, textile-based sleeping bag with incorporated pressure sensors to detect awakening stages of the child. On the upper part of the bag, we mounted weighted slots and vibrating motors to provide a pacifying sensation when the child is in such an awakening stage.

Some preliminary results showed the developed bag was able to create a calming sensation in most cases.

Some preliminary results showed the developed bag was able to create a calming sensation in most cases. In addition to treating sleeping disorders, this smart sleeping bag is expected to improve the quality of everyday life for the children and their parents. After some additional study for improvement of the bag’s overall design and clinical validation, the solution presented in this study to treat sleeping disorder among ASD children could be produced on a commercial scale in the near future.

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