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