Understanding the sensory experiences of young people with autism spectrum disorder: A preliminary investigation

Published January 2013
Abstract
BACKGROUND/AIM: Unusual responses to sensations can impact upon the daily activities for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Current understandings of these sensory experiences have been drawn from the proxy reports from parents/caregivers, standardised self-report questionnaires and autobiographical accounts. As sensory experiences are intensely personal, the first-hand accounts of people with autism spectrum disorder may have greater validity than caregiver reports, but these have never been systematically researched. This study explored the utility of using a semi-structured interview protocol augmented with visual cues to facilitate our understanding of the way people with autism spectrum disorder experience sensory input, and use coping strategies to manage sensory issues that interfere with participation. METHOD: A semi-structured interview augmented by visual cues was used to investigate the sensory experiences of three adolescent males with autism spectrum disorder. As is common in this population, two of the participants also had a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and were taking stimulant medication. RESULTS: Participants shared a preference for expected, predictable and controllable sensory input, whereas unexpected, unpredictable and uncontrollable sensations were perceived as unpleasant. A heightened awareness of and difficulty filtering extraneous sensory input, high levels of movement seeking and an over-focus on salient sensory input were also described. Strategies employed to manage sensory challenges included avoiding, increasing predictability and control and meta-cognitive adaptations. CONCLUSIONS: Further research involving a larger sample of participants is recommended to determine the utility of using a semi-structured interview protocol augmented with visual cues to understand the sensory experiences of individuals with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder.
Citation
Ashburner, J., Rodger, S., Bennett, L., & Ziviani, J. (2013). Understanding the sensory experiences of young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A preliminary investigation. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 60(3), 171-180.

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