Sensory processing refers to the ability of the central nervous system to receive afferent sensory inputs, allocate attention to relevant sensory information, filter out irrelevant information, and organize appropriate behavioral responses. Individuals with sensory processing dysfunction (SPD) experience distress and impairment caused by a pattern of over- or under-responsivity to stimulation across sensory modalities. SPD is beginning to draw the attention of psychological researchers, and it is a promising area of study for investigators interested in the identification and study of transdiagnostic psychopathological processes with identifiable neurobiological substrates. SPD is very common in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; occurring in upwards of 80% of autistic children and adults), but it is also occurs at relatively high rates among typically developing children and adults, with prevalence estimates ranging from 5-16.5%. There is a relatively high level of comorbidity between SPD and common psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety and OC-spectrum disorders. This poster will present the results of a meta-analysis of the relationship of SPD with anxiety and repetitive behavior in children with ASD and children and adults with typical development. Included articles had to meet at least one of the following criteria: 1) presented continuous, zero-order relationships between a behavioral self-report measure of sensory processing and a measure of either anxiety or repetitive behavior, 2) presented effect sizes (or group means and standard deviations) for differences between groups high vs. low in sensory dysfunction on measures of anxiety or repetitive behavior, or 3) presented effect sizes (or group means and standard deviations) for differences between groups high vs. low on anxiety or repetitive on measures of sensory functioning. In addition, the study sample must have been made up of adults or children with an ASD or PDD-NOS, or adults or children with typical development. Studies with otherwise typically developing samples selected for sensory processing difficulties, anxiety, or a repetitive behavior disorder were included, but studies with samples selected for any other psychological or medical comorbidity were not included. Sufficient data for meta-analysis were obtained for the relationship between SPD and anxiety (N = 5356), sensory over-responsivity (SOR) and anxiety (N = 4310), SPD and repetitive behaviors (N = 1218), and SOR and repetitive behaviors (N = 3504). Meta-analytic effect size estimates for these relationships ranged from .37 - .43; all effects were significant, although there was some heterogeneity that was accounted for by ASD diagnosis. In the case of the relationship between SOR and anxiety, the relationship was significantly stronger for children with ASD than for typically developing children (r = .27 vs. r = .43). Implications for the future study of transdiagnostic mechanisms of psychopathology will be discussed, and recommendations for improved definition and measurement of SPD will be presented.
Hana Zickgraf– PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology, Psychology Intern, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania