Sensory Problems in Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Objectives: 1) To explore the frequency of sensory problems in mothers of children and adolescents with ASD; 2) To investigate whether sensory problems were associated with the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP) Traits.
Methods: 50 mothers of children and adolescents with ASD were recruited to the study. None of the mothers had diagnosis of ASD. Mothers were asked to complete the Adult Sensory Profile (AASP; Brown & Dunn, 2002). The AASP is a norm-referenced questionnaire that provides scores for four types of responses to sensory stimuli (sensory quadrants): hypo-sensitivity, hyper-sensitivity, sensation seeking, and avoiding. The manual provides scores from a large normative sample of typically developed adult individuals. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1994) was used as a proxy for Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP) traits.
Results: The scores of mothers of children with ASD were compared with norms provided by AASP manual. 62% of mothers had higher sensory hypo-sensitivity scores than TD norms (36% had scores between 1 and 2 standard deviations (SDs) above the mean, and 26% 2 or more SDs above the mean), 44 % had higher scores for sensory sensitivity (14% between 1 and 2 SDs and 30% 2 or more SDs above the mean). 48% had higher scores for sensory avoidance (22% between 1 and 2 SDs and 26% 2 or more SDs above the mean). Interestingly, 60% of parents had lower sensory seeking scores than TD norms (30% between 1 and 2 SDs and 30% 2 or more SDs below the mean). None of sensory scores were associated with BAP (as indexed by IRI).
Conclusions: This is a first study to investigate sensory problems in parents of children with ASD and our findings suggest that these problems are indeed very frequent. These results have important theoretical and clinical implications. Since sensory problems have been found to be associated with affective disorders in both ASD and general population and affective problems are indeed prevalent in the parents of children with ASD, future work will need to address the role of sensory problems in the development and maintenance of anxiety in parents of ASD individuals. Furthermore, recent studies suggest a degree of heritability of sensory problems in the general population (Goldsmith et al., 2006) and further work needs to be done to elucidate the contribution of genetic and environmental influences on the expression of sensory problems in ASD.