Objectives. This study explores the constructs of stereotyped behaviors (e.g., repetitive motor patterns, object manipulations, behavioral rigidities) and tactile defensiveness as relevant to occupational therapy theory and practice and attempts to test their purported relationships in children with developmental disabilities.

Method. Twenty-eight children with developmental disabilities and autism were assessed on eight factors of stereotyped behavior via a questionnaire and by four measures of tactile defensiveness. The subjects’ scores from the questionnaire were correlated with their scores on the tactile defensiveness measures to see what, if any, relationship among these behaviors exists.

Results. Significant relationships emerged from the data, indicating that subjects with higher levels of tactile defensiveness were also more likely to evidence rigid or inflexible behaviors, repetitive verbalizations, visual stereotypies, and abnormal focused affections that are often associated with autism. No significant association was found between motor and object stereotypies and tactile defensiveness. These relationships could not be explained solely by maturational factors.

Conclusion. The results suggest that clinicians should include observations of stereotyped behaviors, particularly behavioral rigidities, in conjunction with assessments of sensory defensiveness because these are related phenomena that may pose unique challenges for children with developmental disabilities and autism. Further study is needed to determine the causal mechanisms responsible for these relationships.

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