Caregiver's Perspectives on the Sensory Environment and Participation in Daily Activities for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Objectives: The objective of this study was to explore participation in daily activity among families of children with ASD and the perceived influence of sensory environments. Specifically, the study explored the sensory environmental factors that enhance or limit participation, as well as the methods parents or caregivers use to support participation for their child.
Methods: A phenomenological design was used to guide data collection and analysis of recorded interviews from 34 caregivers of children with ASD ages 3 to 7. Data collected for the study included semi-structured interviews, member checks, and demographic information. Interviews were transcribed and crosschecked. Two or more researchers analyzed the data to ensure the reliability of the analysis. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze demographic information.
Results: Qualitative analysis identified reoccurring themes that describe the impact of the sensory environment on participation in the young child with ASD, as well as a parental decisional-making process and strategies to support participation. Participants reported that environmental match was important in enabling their children’s participation. Caregivers described a participation decision-making process in which they distinguished between essential and non-essential activities. Additionally, the amount of effort required by the parents to enable their child’s participation was a key factor in deciding what activities parents would prioritize for their children. There were 6 common strategies implemented by caregivers to improve person and environment fit necessary to enable participation. Strategies either directly related to the sensory factors of the environment, or focused on reducing behavioral responses associated with sensory factors.
Conclusions: This study identifies important considerations to enhance participation in the home and community environments for the child with ASD including the decision making process of the family and strategies integrated into daily routines to improve environmental fit.