Abstract

Importance: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD) commonly display unusual responses to sensory input. Previous work has suggested concurrent associations linking sensory features with aspects of family functioning, including activity participation and caregiver strain. What is unknown, however, is the extent to which sensory features affect family functioning over time, as well as the influence of received services on these relationships.

Objective: To assess hypothesized longitudinal associations between sensory features and family functioning and examine interactions by group and service usage (i.e., educational and therapy services).

Design: Multigroup longitudinal observational study.

Setting: Community.

Participants: A volunteer sample of 81 children (50 with ASD, 31 with DD; 76% male), ages 2–12 yr, and their caregivers participated in assessments at two points, 3.3 yr apart on average.

Outcomes and Measures: Key measures included the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire, Sensory Profile, Sensory Processing Assessment for Young Children, Tactile Defensiveness and Discrimination Test–Revised, Caregiver Strain Questionnaire, and Home and Community Activities Scale. We also measured the amount of time children received educational and therapy services.

Results: Regression analyses confirmed long-term associations linking sensory features with aspects of activity participation and caregiver strain in this population; group and service usage interactions were also identified.

Conclusions and Relevance: Sensory features can affect the everyday experiences of both children and caregivers. It is important for practitioners to understand the potentially enduring effects of children’s sensory features on family functioning so as to begin to identify supportive interventions with more optimal long-term effects.

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