Exploring the Relationship between Sensory Reactivity and Mental Health: A Comparison of ASD and Neurotypical Youths.

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
T. Rossow1, K. MacLennan2, M. R. Gerdes3, E. J. Marco3 and T. Tavassoli4, (1)University or Reading, Reading, United Kingdom, (2)University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom, (3)Neurology, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, (4)Centre for Autism, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
Background: Research shows that sensory reactivity symptoms are often present in individuals with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum condition (ASC), irrespective of level of functioning. The literature also asserts that autistic individuals are at a significantly higher risk of developing mental health conditions than their neurotypical peers. Whilst some research has investigated individual sensory reactivity constructs within specific diagnoses, particularly with hyper-responsivity/sensory sensitivity and anxiety, little research has been conducted more broadly into the relationship between other sensory reactivity constructs (poor registration/hyporesponsivity and sensation seeking) and the development of other mental health disorders. The current study explores the correlational relationship between sensory reactivity and mental health constructs across a sample of ASC and neurotypical youths.

Objectives: To examine whether there are relationships between sensory reactivity and mental health, and explore any differences in sensory processing and mental health across groups of ASC and neurotypical youths.

Methods: This study analysed standardised parent-report measures of sensory difficulties and mental health. Measures were completed for 29 children diagnosed with ASC (ages 7 to 11) and 43 children without a diagnosis (ages 8 to 12). The Sensory Profile - Parent (SP) was used as the measure of sensory reactivity, and the Child Symptom Inventory (CSI) for mental health constructs. The SP provided symptom scores for auditory, visual, vestibular, touch, multisensory and oral processing, and total scores for sensory seeking, poor registration and sensory sensitivity. The CSI provided symptom scores for inattention, hyperactivity, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), specific phobia, obsessions, compulsions, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, social phobia and separation anxiety. Cross-tabulation analyses were used to understand sensory reactivity symptoms across groups, and bivariate correlational analyses were used to assess sensory reactivity and mental health.

Results: Cross-tabulation analysis found that autistic participants had greater sensory processing difficulties compared with their neurotypical peers (p < .01), and that autistic participants had higher scores on poor registration than sensory seeking or sensory sensitivity (p < .01). Significant correlations were also found between sensory sensitivity constructs and mental health in autistic participants, including in sensory seeking and hyperactivity (r = -.67, p < .01) and generalised anxiety (r = -.60, p < .01), and in total sensory processing and generalised anxiety (r = -.59, p < .01) and depression (r = -.56, p < .01). Significant correlations were also found for individual sensory modalities and mental health in autistic participants (p < .05).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that there is a relationship between sensory reactivity and mental health, both at a total construct level and at an individual modality level. The results also suggest that there may be a potential for diagnosis-specific profiles of sensory reactivity and mental health. Further, poor registration may be an under-assessed variable. Future directions include understanding the causal relationship between sensory reactivity and mental health, and developing a more robust understanding of across-group profiles.