Importance: Limited research has elucidated factors predicting occupational therapy–specific service utilization by children with autism. Such research is needed to inform reasons for receipt of services.
Objective: To examine factors associated with occupational therapy service utilization by children with autism. We hypothesized that elevated sensory hyperresponsiveness; greater sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking; and lower adaptive behavior would predict more service utilization.
Design: Analysis of extant data from a prospective, longitudinal survey study about autism symptom severity, adaptive behavior, sensory features, and demographic and service utilization information of children with autism ages 3 to 13 yr.
Setting: Online parent survey regarding child behaviors during daily activities and contexts.
Participants: 892 parents of children with autism from 50 U.S. states.
Outcomes and Measures: We used scores on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale–Second Edition, the Social Responsiveness Scale, and the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire Version 3.0 and responses to a demographic questionnaire. We formulated hypotheses after data collection but before analysis.
Results: Predictors of higher occupational therapy service utilization were lower enhanced perception; lower adaptive behavior; elevated sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors; younger child age; and higher household income.
Conclusion and Relevance: Results partially support our hypotheses. Sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behavior predicted occupational therapy service utilization, whereas other sensory response patterns did not, suggesting a possible referral bias for certain sensory response patterns. Occupational therapy practitioners can educate parents and teachers about the scope of practice, which includes addressing sensory features beyond sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors.
What This Article Adds: Children with autism who have impairments in adaptive functioning and high levels of sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors receive more occupational therapy services. Occupational therapy practitioners should be well trained to address such concerns and advocate for the profession’s role in mitigating the impact of sensory features on daily life.