Research Platform
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Prevalence of Sensory Characteristics in the General Population: A Person-Centered Approach
Article Information
Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder / Learning Disabilities / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Sensory Integration and Processing / Assessment/Measurement
Research Platform   |   August 01, 2016
Prevalence of Sensory Characteristics in the General Population: A Person-Centered Approach
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011500001.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011500001.

Date Presented 4/8/2016

The literature emphasizes sensory patterns among vulnerable populations. Our findings illustrate that children in the general population have similar patterns. By recognizing these similarities, we can study children who are participating successfully to discover how they manage everyday life.

Primary Author and Speaker: Winnie Dunn

Additional Authors and Speakers: Scott Tomchek, Lauren Little, Evan Dean

RATIONALE: Research has suggested that children show great variability in sensory-related behaviors (avoiding, sensitivity, registration, seeking). Such variability has led some researchers to investigate sensory subtypes in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and in the typical population (Lane, Molloy, & Bishop, 2014; Little et al., in preparation). Although subtyping approaches allow us to uncover more homogeneous groups of children on the basis of sensory features, such approaches are limited in providing a full understanding of how sensory patterns co-occur. For example, previous research has suggested that hyper- and hyporesponsiveness co-occur in 69% of children with ASD (Baranek, David, Poe, Stone, & Watson, 2006). We do not know, however, whether such combinations of sensory behaviors occur in the general population, or whether certain combinations of patterns occur more often in certain demographics (age, diagnosis, gender). It is important for therapists to understand how the co-occurrence of sensory-related behaviors in children with and without conditions may contribute to participation.
DESIGN: This study used a descriptive approach to characterize sensory characteristics in a large sample of children with and without conditions.
PARTICIPANTS: We used the national standardization database from the Sensory Profile 2 for the analysis. This database includes 1,056 children ages 3–14 yr. About 30% of the sample were children who have various conditions such as ASD and learning disabilities.
METHOD: The Pearson testing company used their national contacts to obtain the data for this database. We used the Child Sensory Profile 2 data for this study. This measures parent report of the frequency with which their children respond to sensory events in everyday life. These measures have strong validity and reliability (Dunn, 2014).
ANALYSIS: We used a descriptive approach to identify children that scored in the “more than others” (MTO) range (scores were 1 standard deviation or more above the mean). We also used analysis of variance to test the differences in age, gender, and diagnosis between groups of children based on sensory characteristics.
RESULTS: There were 34 possible combinations of the presentation of sensory characteristics. In this sample, 250 (23.7%) of the sample scored in the MTO range on one or more pattern, and 565 (53.1%) of children showed scores within the average range. Future analyses will investigate the extent to which age, gender, and diagnosis differentially present within each group of children based on sensory pattern scores in the MTO range.
DISCUSSION: Children in the general population exhibit sensory patterns in the same configuration as children who have conditions. With this knowledge, we can inform both research and practice. For example, researching children with differences in sensory processing who successfully participate in everyday life may provide insights that will inform better ways to support children and families when the children are not coping as well with the same patterns.
IMPACT STATEMENT: Our findings demonstrate the power of adaptation that is possible when children recognize their own sensory patterns and create strategies to manage their own daily routines. Children without conditions have similar patterns to vulnerable populations, yet have successful participation.
Baranek, G. T., David, F. J., Poe, M. D., Stone, W. L., & Watson, L. R. (2006). Sensory Experiences Questionnaire: Discriminating sensory features in young children with autism, developmental delays, and typical development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 591–601.
Dunn, W. (2014). Sensory Profile 2 user’s manual. Bloomington, MN: Pearson.
Lane, A. E., Molloy, C. A., & Bishop, S. L. (2014). Classification of children with autism spectrum disorder by sensory subtype: A case for sensory-based phenotypes. Autism Research, 7, 322–333.
Little, L., Tomchek, S., Dean, E., Meyers, J., & Dunn, W. (in preparation). Classifying sensory profiles in a community based sample.