Molly Shields Bagby, Virginia A. Dickie, Grace T. Baranek; How Sensory Experiences of Children With and Without Autism Affect Family Occupations. Am J Occup Ther 2012;66(1):78–86. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.000604
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We used a grounded theory approach to data analysis to discover what effect, if any, children’s sensory experiences have on family occupations. We chose this approach because the existing literature does not provide a theory to account for the effect of children’s sensory experiences on family occupations. Parents of six children who were typically developing and six children who had autism were interviewed. We analyzed the data using open, axial, and selective coding techniques. Children’s sensory experiences affect family occupations in three ways: (1) what a family chooses to do or not do; (2) how the family prepares; and (3) the extent to which experiences, meaning, and feelings are shared.
Assess both positive and negative effects of a child’s sensory experiences on family occupations and routines.
Teach parents to be sensitive to their child’s sensory preferences or avoidances, and provide coaching to encourage responsive strategies that optimize engagement in family occupations.
Establish strategies to help families manage sensory-laden activities through advanced planning and preparation, but recognize parents’ limitations and stress.
Educate families about their child’s sensory experiences in a way that fosters a “meeting of minds” and minimizes confusion, feelings of incompetence, and worry.
Be judicious in the use of clinical jargon with parents, especially jargon that may pathologize or otherwise derail shared experiences and feelings that are integral to family occupations.
Promote strategies to manage the situation in context rather than attempt to solely change specific features in the child.
Identify meaningful occupations that can “trump” uncomfortable sensory experiences (e.g., a child’s love for building activities in the sandbox may override his dislike of messy activities).
Establish routines that possess, or have the potential to acquire, positive sensory experiences to promote shared experiences that rebuild meaningful family occupation over time.
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