Poor sleep and language problems run together commonly in young children. Speech-language pathologists are in a unique position to examine and identify these comorbid syndromes. A study showing this was just conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York (Bonuck K, et al., Autism Dev Lang Impair. 2021 Aug 4;6:23969415211035066. doi: 10.1177/23969415211035066).
In this study, speech-language pathologists administered screeners to parents of 2-6-year-olds: the Short Form-Children's Sleep Habits Questionnaire (for behavioral sleep problems) and the pediatric sleep questionnaire (for sleep-disordered breathing). They then participated in pre- and post-screening focus groups. Pre-screening topics included professional preparation and clinical experience regarding pediatric sleep issues. Post-screening, speech-language pathologists provided feedback about the screening experience and feasibility of incorporating such screening into practice.
Among 51 children, 31% (16/51) screened positive for sleep-disordered breathing, 78% for behavioral sleep problems (40/51), and 43% (12/28) per parent report. Parent-reported problems were associated with sleep-disordered breathing (p = 0.00) but not behavioral sleep problems (p = 0.24). During focus groups, speech-language pathologists reported no formal pediatric sleep training, high parental concern about sleep, and agreed that screening fit their professional mandate. Speech-language pathologists affirmed that the ≤15 min screenings integrated seamlessly into practice but that additional training, particularly for sleep-disordered breathing, was needed.
The prevalence of sleep problems in 2-6-year-olds presenting to speech-language pathologists was higher than in community samples, but consistent with data from young children with developmental disabilities. Speech-language pathologists endorsed the utility and feasibility of sleep problem screening and education in their clinical practice.
This means that wider Integration of sleep problem screening and education into speech-language pathologist practice is feasible and could widen surveillance of both sleep problems and risk factors for developmental language disorders. The authors of the study conclude that further research should include larger samples and other settings, e.g. home or school.
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