Year of Publication

2005

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Health Sciences

Department

Rehabilitation Sciences

First Advisor

Ruth Huebner

Second Advisor

Lori Gonzalez

Abstract

Rationale: Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with onset prior to the age of three years characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication skill, along with a restricted repetitive and stereotyped pattern of behavior, interests, and activities. In addition to these core diagnostic features, aberrant sensory responding has also been widely reported in the literature describing children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Aberrant sensory processing has, however, been infrequently studied compared to communication and cognition in autism and existing studies have had multiple methodological deficiencies, especially with sampling procedures. Purpose. The purpose of this study is to describe patterns of sensory processing found in children with an ASD to test the relationship(s) of these patterns to diagnostic and developmental variables. Method. Retrospective data collection was used to collect developmental and sensory processing variables of 400 children with an ASD. Sensory processing abilities were measured by the SSP. Results. The majority of the sample (80.5%) had a diagnosis of autism. The average age of the sample was 49.58 months. The adaptive, social, language, and motor developmental variables were consistent with diagnostic patterns in that the children with Asperger Disorder demonstrated higher developmental levels than the children with autism and PDD-NOS. Eighty-nine percent of the sample demonstrated some degree of sensory processing dysfunction on the SSP Total Score with the greatest difficulties reported on the Underresponsive/Seeks Sensation, Auditory Filtering, and Tactile Sensitivity sections. Exploratory factor analysis identified 6 parsimonious factors: Low Energy/Weak, Tactile and Movement Sensitivity, Taste/Smell Sensitivity, Auditory and Visual Sensitivity, Sensory Seeking/Distractibility, and Hypo-responsivity. These factor variables contributed to explaining the differences in five of six developmental variables of the sample that are associated with the diagnosis of autism. Receptive language, adaptive and expressive language performance were significantly correlated with sensory processing factor scores. Conclusions. Together, the sensory processing findings noted in this study describe a pattern of dysfunctional sensory modulation. These findings have significant implications for intervention programs involving individuals with an ASD, given the potential impact of these findings on a childs ability to maintain active engagement.

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