For Immediate Release: March 2, 2020

Study shows lighting can positively impact behavior of children with autism

SMUD studies lighting in homes of children with autism

SMUD partnered with the UC Davis MIND Institute, FlyBrave Foundation and others to study the effects of programmable lighting systems in the homes of children with autism. After 29 weeks of study, experts found significantly positive results using programmable lighting techniques and have released their findings. The full report can be found here.

“The results of this study are significant, with families reporting marked improvements in behavior, daily routines and activity transitions by utilizing programmable lighting systems,” said SMUD lighting expert Connie Samla.

“Studies have shown that lighting affects our circadian rhythms and may have impacts upon our health and behaviors. Results from previous studies in senior care homes and in the classroom showed promise, so we wanted to test those theories inside the home,” said SMUD project manager Dave Bisbee.

The study focused on using lighting systems to develop and reinforce routines, avoid exposure to blue-white light at night and provide lighting for safe nighttime navigation. It included baseline and weekly surveys, and interviews with the 33 families who successfully completed the home study.

At the beginning of the study, the participants were asked to rank their child in four categories with 5 being the best and 1 being the worst. Categories studied included: 1) child’s emotional state; 2) how difficult to get child to bed; 3) how difficult to get child out of bed; and 4) ease of activity transitions. All of the families who ranked their children at a 3 or lower for one or more of these categories experienced significant improvements.

  • 97 percent of families reported that the lighting systems provided moderate to life-changing impacts on their family.
  • 97 percent of the 30 children with low baseline ratings for the “Ease of Activity Transitions” question saw significant improvements.
  • 100 percent of the 8 children with low baseline “Emotional State” ratings saw improvements compared to the period before the lighting was installed.
  • 95 percent of the 19 children with low baseline ratings for the “How difficult to get child to bed” question experienced improvements. Study shows lighting can positively impact behavior of children with autism
  • One third of the of the participants reported dramatic reductions (50 percent or more) in the amount of time required for their child to fall asleep.
  • Families reported the lighting made it easier to get their child up and ready for school in the morning, compared to before the lights were installed.
  • Families reported reductions in challenging behaviors such as meltdowns, biting and bedwetting.

“The bottom line is that the children are sleeping better, which is likely to lead to fewer behavioral challenges and less stress for all family members,” said Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D., director of the UC Davis Mind Institute.

SMUD began studying the effects of lighting on health in 2015 when they studied the impact of lighting on dementia patients. In this study, patients experienced a reduction in falls and nighttime anxiety. Seniors at an independent care facility reported higher daytime energy levels, and in a 2018 classroom study, teachers reported that it was easier for them to teach their special education students using LED tunable lighting.

“As a not-for-profit, community-owned electric utility, we are constantly pursuing innovations that improve the lives of our customers. Helping families who have special needs is particularly rewarding,” said SMUD’s Chief Customer Officer Nicole Howard.

SMUD will continue to work with the MIND Institute to share results and is in discussions with Signify, the manufacturer of the Phillips Hue smart lighting system, to roll out these types of lighting solutions to communities with special needs. To educate its customers, SMUD provides free workshops and consultations about lighting and other energy related topics within the community. For information, visit

About SMUD
As the nation’s sixth-largest community-owned, not-for-profit, electric service provider, SMUD has been providing low-cost, reliable electricity for more than 70 years to Sacramento County and small adjoining portions of Placer and Yolo Counties. SMUD is a recognized industry leader and award winner for its innovative energy efficiency programs, renewable power technologies, and for its sustainable solutions for a healthier environment. SMUD’s power mix is about 50 percent non-carbon emitting. For more information, visit