Sensory Behaviors of Preschool Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Provost, Beth; Crowe, Terry K. et al. | New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Sensory Behaviors of Preschool Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders


Provost, Beth, Crowe, Terry K., Acree, Kaylyn, Osbourn, Patricia L., McClain, Catherine, New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy


Occupational performance includes everything people do to occupy themselves (self-care), enjoy life (leisure), and contribute to the social and economic fabric of their community (productivity) (http://www.nzaot.com). Occupations of children generally include play, self-care, community mobility, learning, and social participation. Engagement in all of these occupations requires appropriate registration, processing, and integration of input from various sensory channels. The link between sensory integration and occupation has been present since the early years of Ayres' work, and sensory integration-based intervention became a tool for helping children engage in occupations and create rich and meaningful lives (Parham 2002). Spitzer (2001) has specifically defined occupation for children with autism as a set of directed actions connected by physical movements, materials, space, or purpose within a time period, in a way that is meaningful to the individual executing them. The presence of sensory issues, however, may present special challenges to children with autism as they engage in their occupations, since over- or under-reactivity to sensory experiences can have a profound effect upon children's behavior and development. In addition, children's behavior and development may affect their families' occupations, and research suggests that families of children with severe autism have difficulty creating and experiencing positive family occupations (DeGrace, 2004). Knowledge of sensory processing differences in children with autism, therefore, can assist occupational therapists in understanding and reframing behaviors for families as well as in planning optimal intervention strategies to enhance children's and families' occupational performance and participation in childhood activities.

Sensory issues have been described in individuals of all ages with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including children, which may affect auditory, visual, tactile, movement, and oral sensory processing (Ayres & Tickle, 1980; Baranek, 2002; Baranek, David, Poe, Stone, & Watson, 2006; Ben-Sasson, et al., 2007; Dawson & Watling, 2000; Kientz & Dunn, 1997; Tomchek & Dunn, 2007; Watling, Deitz, & White, 2001). Impairments in modulating sensory input range from hypersensitivity or overreactivity to undersensitivity or hyporeactivity in the various sensory areas (Tomchek & Dunn, 2007). The evidence for sensory processing disorders in persons with ASD, as discussed in Tomchek and Dunn (2007), has been gathered from various sources, including parental reports, videotape analysis, and firsthand accounts of living with autism.

However, as noted in Tomchek and Dunn (2007), a problem in the research is the lack of consistency among studies on sensory processing issues in individuals with ASD regarding the size and ages of their samples, methods of measurement and lack of replication. The Sensory Profile (SP) is a well-known caregiver report measure of sensory processing behaviors developed for children between the ages of 3 and 10 years (Dunn, 1999). Several studies involving children with ASD reported results on the SP using different scores (e.g. factor scores vs. section scores; quadrant scores have not been reported) for children across different ages, which can lead to difficulty comparing results across studies. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to assess sensory differences in a specific age group of preschool children with ASD and to report all possible scores of the Sensory Profile for the children. The findings of this research will assist therapists to anticipate relevant sensory issues in young children with ASD and develop appropriate intervention to address sensory strengths and concerns. The reporting of comprehensive SP results will allow replication of and valid comparison with previous research, and will expand current knowledge by reporting all SP scores, including quadrant scores, in this particular age group of children with ASD. …

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Sensory Behaviors of Preschool Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders
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