By: Rao, Patricia A. and Beidel, Deborah C.
Discussed by: Laura Woodring
The author’s purpose for this article was to explore the impact of childhood sensory integration disorder on children with autism and their family’s life and routines. The author found that research shows significant impact on the families, both in and out of the home. Families must plan and adjust routines to anticipate and accommodate the sensory dysregulation patterns and associated behaviors. Professionals that work closely with these families would benefit from understanding the effect of sensory integration disorders on the overall mental and physical functioning of the family unit.
Autism spectrum disorders impact approximately 1 in 110 children, families and siblings. Studies were cited that document parent reports of high levels of stress and burden that impact all forms of family life. Challenging behaviors can be related to poor sensory modulation such as self- stimulation, avoidance behaviors, sensory seeking behaviors, and tuning- out behaviors (not responding to their name or other social cues). These behaviors are often paired with a degree of perseveration, over- focus of attention, and exceptional memory for selective material. The author indicates that literature substantiates that sensory- related behaviors in individuals with ASD occur in high frequency, in specific patterns, and have an impact on behavior and learning. Family routines are used to organize activities, maintain cultural beliefs and values, and provide stability in everyday life. Children with autism tend to have ritualistic behaviors that interfere with participation in daily routines. Lack of flexibility with their affected child often requires a family to over- compensate in turn.
This particular study examined how families orchestrate family routines as a way to provide support to the child with autism and sensory processing disorder. Every parent participant reported routines planned around their child with ASD. Six main themes emerged from the data: flexibility, familiar space versus unfamiliar space, difficulty completing family activities, impact on siblings, the need for constant monitoring, and the importance of developing strategies to improve participation for the family.
Overall, the study found that the child’s sensory processing difficulties influenced family routines and participation in activities, and that these sensory behaviors were an important consideration when evaluating the child and family’s health and well- being. The child’s needs greatly impacted the family, as they dictated the activities in which and how the family participated and necessitated that the parents create strategies to develop routines within the family to adapt. The findings of this study highlight the importance of consideration of family routines, activities and coping strategies when working with families affected by autism. Findings also identify specific areas that may be problematic for families and should be considered when planning interventions. Professionals working with children with autism should recognize that each child will have individual sensory needs and behaviors, and analyzing sensory aspects could potentially improve the family’s participation for home and community activities.