February 21, 2012

From Vanderbilt Medicine: A Hard Day's Night: the intriguing relationship between autism and sleep

Photo by Daniel Dubois. Illustration by Kylie Beck.

Photo by Daniel Dubois. Illustration by Kylie Beck.

by Kathy Whitney

Beth Malow, M.D., M.S., is always on the go. Attending back-to-back meetings, she bursts into a room with an overloaded bag on her shoulder, lunch in her hand and a caffeine-free Diet Coke. It’s 2:30 p.m., and she hasn’t eaten yet, so she eats while she talks. She is a busy woman who rarely has time to rest, yet sleep is her area of expertise.

She is specifically interested in the sleep habits of children with autism. As a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator, she is a nationally recognized expert in this area, juggling multiple research studies on the subject, while running the Sleep Disorders clinic, and serving as the principal investigator for Vanderbilt’s Autism Treatment Network Site.

Her research area is not necessarily one she chose but one that chose her. Malow, who treats the sleep disorders of children with autism, educates their tired and frustrated parents and runs clinical trials with the hope of improving their lives, is also the parent of two children, both of whom are on the autism spectrum.

A professor of Neurology and Pediatrics, Malow recalls that when her son Austin was a toddler he did not respond to her calling his name. She attributed that to his delayed language development, which she attributed to his being a boy.

“He was my first son, and I hadn’t been around younger kids because my brothers are both older than me. What I noticed was that Austin always liked to be in his car seat, and when I held him, he was kind of rigid. I had trouble getting him to respond to me, but I didn’t know what normal was.”

Read the full story from Vanderbilt Medicine.