Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) frequently have feeding and eating difficulties (Ahearn et al., 2001; Martins, Young & Robson, 2008) as well as abnormal sensory processing and unusual responses to sensory stimuli (Tromchek & Dunn, 2007; Wiggins et al., 2009). This can lead to significantly compromised occupational performance and quality of life.
Objectives: The primary purpose of this study was to investigate sensory processing subtypes as predictors of early feeding problems in children with ASD and feeding/eating difficulties. Mediating influences of child characteristics (behavioral issues, compulsive behaviors and sensory issues) were examined. We predict newborn feeding difficulties and problems with eating habits will be associated with inefficient sensory processing. Further, we predict that child characteristics will exert a mediating effect on feeding behaviors as well as sensory domains.
Methods: A cross-sectional, secondary data analysis study design was used. Data was collected from the Autism Treatment Network (ATN) Registry data base at Kennedy Krieger Institute. Diagnostic inclusion criteria included children with a clinical diagnosis of ASD, Asperger’s Syndrome, or PDD, NOS. Information regarding child characteristics was gathered from ATN parent and clinician questionnaires. Dunn’s Short Sensory Profile was used to determine the child’s sensory processing subtype. Descriptive and bivariate analysis were used to analyze the relationship between sensory processing and feeding/eating behaviors and child characteristics
Results: 170 children between the ages of 3 and 17 years with diagnoses of Asperger’s DO (n=6); Autism (n=79); PDD NOS (n=80) were included in the study. Difficulty with feeding during the first month of life was seen in 30% of the sample, disrupted eating habits in 70%, and caregivers identified sensory concerns in 77% of the sampled population. Multivariate analysis of variance will be used examine sensory processing domains and child characteristics with feeding/eating behaviors and sensory domains.
This study will contribute novel findings regarding the relationship between the way children with ASD process sensory information and feeding behaviors. Preliminary results suggest high rates of disruptive feeding and sensory processing differences are present in the population. The way these children process sensory input may be a hidden contributor to feeding success which suggests a multisensory approach to intervention.
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