Margaret C. Souders, PhD, CRNP, FAAN
The simple acts of falling asleep and staying asleep that many of us take for granted can be an enormous hurdle for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. A former orphan adopted by a Brooklyn, New York family, Margaret C. Souders is a self-described “fighter” who now advocates for children whose neurodevelopmental conditions keep them from speaking for themselves. Today, she creates interventions to help children with autism and speaks nationally and internationally on autism and its treatment.
“The genes for circadian rhythms may be implicated in autism. It’s exciting to see the sleep-autism connection and to advocate for children and families.”
- PhD, University of Pennsylvania, 2008
- MSN, University of Pennsylvania, 1996
- BSN, University of Pennsylvania, 1981
Dr. Souders’ work shows that phylogenetics – specifically, the oldest genetic lines in our evolution – play a role in circadian rhythms, and changes in these rhythms may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorder. In other words, the same genetic drivers that create and maintain sleep may, when altered, play a role in the development of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Her expertise in sleep medicine and genetics allows Dr. Souders to create targeted interventions for children with autism. For example, for a child with autism and insomnia, this means establishing a regular sleep routine, including yoga, deep breathing, and a calming snack, and perhaps changes to the ecology of the patient’s home, such as creating a cool, dark, quiet bedroom free of televisions and pets.
Researching the timing mechanisms that create and maintain sleep has given Dr. Souders greater insight into autism and other disorders. Early research on autism and schizophrenia grouped those conditions together, and Dr. Souders suggests the same type of genetic variant may be implicated in these problems and bipolar disorder.
Dr. Souders’ work in the Clinical Genetics Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) allows her to bring her research to two new families each week, working as part of a multidisciplinary team to diagnose autism or reconfirm the diagnosis and fine-tune treatment protocols. A nurse practitioner student in pediatrics or psychiatry shadows Dr. Souders in this work. Dr. Souders is also on the board of a school in Philadelphia that cares for African-American and minority students, where she provides early diagnosis and treatment expertise.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
Dr. Souders also teaches all courses in the Integrated Nursing Care of Autism Spectrum Disorder minor, where students learn about screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder; the treatments available; and nurse leadership for family advocacy and neurodevelopmental care. Dr. Souders’ teaching includes simulations, using actors who recreate the behaviors of autism to help nurses feel comfortable with patients who “act out,” and confident about helping these vulnerable children.
Selected Career Highlights
- Service Award, Families Fighting Autism, for tireless dedication to children with autism and their families in the Greater Philadelphia area
- Pennsylvania Nightingale Finalist Award, Education Category, “STAT C-Section Simulations,” Albert Einstein Medical Center
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine Young Investigator Forum, presented at NIH, “Sleep in Children with Autism.”
- Principal investigator, Department of Defense grant, “Feasibility of tailored behavioral interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder”