Free
Research Platform
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Sensory Processing and Challenging Behavior in the General Population
Author Affiliations
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
  • University of Louisville
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
Article Information
Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Sensory Integration and Processing / Assessment/Measurement
Research Platform   |   August 01, 2016
Sensory Processing and Challenging Behavior in the General Population
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011500003. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.70S1-RP202C
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011500003. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2016.70S1-RP202C
Abstract

Date Presented 4/8/2016

The literature emphasizes sensory processing contributions to challenging behavior in children with conditions. Our findings illustrate that children in the general population show similar relationships. By recognizing these relationships, we can better support all children’s participation.

Primary Author and Speaker: Evan Dean

Additional Authors and Speakers: Scott Tomchek, Winnie Dunn, Lauren Little

RESEARCH QUESTION: How do sensory processing patterns at home predict adaptive and challenging behavior in children 6–11 yr old?
RATIONALE: Research with children with autism has shown that sensory processing is related to challenging internalizing and externalizing behaviors (Lane, Reynolds, & Dumenci, 2012; O’Donnell, Deitz, Kartin, Nalty, & Dawson, 2012). Additionally, personality psychologists have linked sensory processing to emotional responses and temperament (Aron, Aron, & Jagiellowicz, 2012). Research is needed to understand how sensory processing can predict challenging and adaptive behavior in the general population.
DESIGN: This study used a cross-sectional, correlational design.
PARTICIPANTS: Participants included 51 children, ages 6–11 yr (n = 37 typically developing; n = 14 with disability) from the Sensory Profile 2 standardization study (Dunn, 2014).
METHOD: The Pearson testing company used their national contacts to obtain the data for this database. We used Child Sensory Profile 2 (SP2) and Behavior Assessment System for Children, 2nd edition (BASC–2), data for this study. The SP2 measures parent report of the frequency with which their children respond to sensory events in every day life. The BASC–2 measures parent report of the frequency of challenging and adaptive behaviors of their children. Both these measures have strong validity and reliability (Dunn, 2014; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004).
ANALYSIS: We used four regression models to test how sensory processing patterns (as defined by the SP2) predict adaptive (adaptability and resiliency) and maladaptive (externalizing and internalizing) behaviors as defined by the BASC–2. Diagnosis served as a binary covariate in each model.
RESULTS: We found that certain sensory processing patterns predict challenging and adaptive behavior. For example, low threshold scores of Avoidance (b = 1.10, p < .001) and Sensitivity (b = –0.5, p = .043) predicted Externalization (outward displays of challenging behavior) and accounted for 51% of the variance of the model. Avoidance (b = –1.25, p < .001) and Registration (high threshold; b = 0.66, p = .019) predicted Adaptability and accounted for 58% of the variance of the model. These relationships were not affected by diagnosis, suggesting that occupational therapists can use sensory processing principles to support all children’s participation. These results demonstrate the importance of considering sensory processing as a possible contributor to challenging behavior in children.
DISCUSSION: Findings suggest that certain sensory processing patterns predict children’s adaptive and maladaptive behavior. These results show the importance of assessing a child’s sensory processing patterns as a possible cause for a child’s behavior. Occupational therapists can support children’s participation by structuring environments and activities to promote adaptive and reduce challenging behavior.
IMPACT STATEMENT: Our findings demonstrate that there is a strong relationship between sensory processing and challenging behavior. Therapists can use this research to support a child’s behavior and participation by focusing intervention on the sensory characteristics of the environment.
References
Aron, E. N., Aron, A., & Jagiellowicz, J. (2012). Sensory processing sensitivity: A review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16, 262–282. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1088868311434213
Dunn, W. (2014). Sensory Profile 2 user’s manual. Bloomington, MN: Pearson.
Lane, S. J., Reynolds, S., & Dumenci, L. (2012). Sensory overresponsivity and anxiety in typically developing children and children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: Cause or coexistence? American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 595–603. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.004523
O’Donnell, S., Deitz, J., Kartin, D., Nalty, T., & Dawson, G. (2012). Sensory processing, problem behavior, adaptive behavior, and cognition in preschool children with autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 586–594. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.004168
Reynolds, C. R., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2004). BASC–2: Behavior Assessment System for Children (2nd ed.). Bloomington, MN: Pearson.