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Issue Date: July 2015
Published Online: July 01, 2015
Updated: April 30, 2020
Developmental and Sensory Pattern Subtypes of Children With an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Author Affiliations
  • University of Louisville Pediatrics, Louisville, Kentucky, and University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City
Article Information
Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Sensory Integration and Processing / Assessment/Measurement
Research Platform   |   July 01, 2015
Developmental and Sensory Pattern Subtypes of Children With an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911500002. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.69S1-RP101C
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911500002. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2015.69S1-RP101C
Abstract

Date Presented 4/16/2015

This study describes subtypes/profiles of children on the basis of sensory processing patterns and child characteristics in a large sample of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 400) between ages 3 and 6 yr. Implications for practice are discussed.

SIGNIFICANCE: Research suggests that sensory processing differences can help identify clinically meaningful subtypes, or distinct profiles, of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The aim of this study was to identify subtypes based on sensory processing patterns and child characteristics in a large sample of children diagnosed with ASD (n = 400) between the ages of 3 and 6 yr. Identifying subtypes of ASD in this narrow age range may help diagnostic and intervention efforts.
INNOVATION: This study is innovative in its use of both sensory processing and child demographic data to investigate subtypes in a young age group of children with ASD. Previous researchers have investigated the associations between sensory subtypes and child characteristics, whereas in our approach, we consider sensory features in conjunction with developmental and adaptive variables. Research questions included the following: (1) How many subtypes exist in a large sample of children aged 3 to 6 yr with ASD? (2) To what extent do these subtypes differ on developmental, sensory, and demographic characteristics?
Sensory processing differences have been widely reported in the literature describing children and adolescents with ASD, and recent studies have used sensory features to characterize subtypes or profiles of children with ASD. Research is needed to both validate and expand on sensory subtypes found in previous studies. Therefore, we investigated subtypes of children with ASD using developmental, diagnostic, demographic, and sensory pattern characteristics.
METHOD: Participants included 400 children aged 3 to 6 yr (M = 49.57 mo, SD = 10.5 mo). Data were collected from children referred for evaluation; they received comprehensive interdisciplinary evaluations at a university-affiliated tertiary diagnostic center. Data on children receiving a diagnostic evaluation were used, including demographic, developmental, and adaptive scores. A latent profile analysis was run to develop a model for groups of subjects who clustered on these variables. The Short Sensory Profile (SSP) was used as the measure of sensory processing. Additional domain specific developmental measures were used to assess performance in adaptive, social, communication, and motor areas.
RESULTS: The four-profile solution was supported (Bayesian information criterion [BIC] = 5,672.7; entropy = 0.78). Sensory symptom severity defined children in Profiles 1 (n = 63) and 4 (n = 94). Age, developmental functioning, and differing sensory scores allowed for interpretation of children in Profiles 2 (n = 42) and 3 (n = 200). Sensory patterns related to low energy/weak, taste/smell sensitivity, seeking, and hyporesponsivity showed variability in subtypes and were related to child characteristics.
CONCLUSION: Distinct subtypes in the current study were defined by sensory processing, age, and developmental performance. These findings have relevance to the variable presentation of individuals with ASD and allow for interpretation of phenotypes that include sensory patterns as well as child characteristics. These phenotypes likely have implications for assessments and interventions aimed at increasing children’s active engagement, which is required for participation in occupations. Additionally, findings may have implications for research studies investigating the etiology of ASD and the variable responding of individuals to intervention programs.