Monday, November 12, 2018

First Impressions Matter: Facial Expression & Peer Acceptance in Autism

First Impressions Matter

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by two core-defining features: impairments in (a) social communication and (b) restricted and repetitive behaviors or interests (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013). Social-communication deficits include difficulties making affective (emotional) contact with others. This includes deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction which range from poorly integrated- verbal and nonverbal communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body-language, or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to a lack of facial expression or gestures.

Many individuals on the autism spectrum have a “flat affect” or reduced facial display. “Flat affect” is a term used to describe a lack of emotional reactivity. With a flat affect, expressive gestures are minimal, and there is little animation in facial expression or vocal inflection. Facial expressions are a form of non-verbal communication essential to interpersonal relationships. An inability to read facial and social cues makes “connecting” to others very difficult. Likewise, reduced expres­sivity may impede social discourse or provoke negative initial reactions to the person with ASD. 
Research
A study published in the journal Autism examined the impact of facial expressivity on first impression formation and found that typically developing children formed their impressions of peers with ASD in as little as 30 seconds. Videos of children with ASD were initially rated for facial expressivity by adults who were unaware of the condition. Researchers further investigated the friendship ratings given by 44 typically developing children to the same videos. The children making friendship judgments were also unaware that they were rating chil­dren with ASD. These ratings were compared to friendship ratings given to video clips of typically developing children. Adult participants rated children with ASD as being less expressive than typically developing children. The 44 child participants also rated peers with ASD lower than typically developing children on all aspects of friendship measures. Children with ASD were rated not as trustworthy as the typically-developing children in the films. Moreover, study participants were less likely to say that they wanted to play with or be friends with the video subjects on the spectrum. These results suggest that impression formation is less positive towards children with ASD than towards typically developing children even when exposure time is brief.
Implications
The findings of this study have important implications for intervention. First impressions make a difference: whether you are looking at facial expressions, gestures, or just general appearance, people are quick to form judgments about others. Children with ASD experience more peer rejection and have fewer friendships than their typically developing peers. Limited facial expres­sivity may further remove children with ASD from meaningful interactions and reciprocal emotional related­ness with others. Negative peer responses can be especially upsetting for more socially aware children with ASD who may be strive but fail to form friendships. Further, distress often increases as children approach adolescence and the social milieu becomes more complex. 
Social relationship skills are critical to successful social, emotional, and cognitive development and to long-term outcomes for all students. An increase in the quality of social relationships can have a major influence on the social and academic development of both typically developing children and those with ASD. Consequently, intervention needs to be focused on both groups in poten­tial interactions rather than solely on the child with ASD. This includes strategies designed to promote skill acquisition in building social relationships such as direct instruction, modeling, role-play, structured activities, social stories, formal social groups, pivotal response teaching, self-monitoring, and coaching. 

Students in general education could help the process of cohesion by serving as prosocial role models for students with ASD. Teachers may also provide reinforcement for prosocial behavior or assign students in general education to work with students with ASD in small groups on class projects together to promote positive interaction. Schools should make a dedicated effort to educate typically developing children about autism and associated symptoms. Educating children and increasing awareness will hopefully encourage a more thoughtful first impression formation process. Teaching social skills can have both preventive and remedial effects that can help reduce the risk for negative outcomes not only for children on the autism spectrum, but also for all children. 
Does facial expressivity count? How typically developing children respond initially to children with Autism. Steven D Stagg, Rachel Slavny, Charlotte Hand, Alice Cardoso and Pamela Smith. Autism published online 11 October 2013 DOI: 10.1177/1362361313492392 
The online version of this article can be found at: http://aut.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/10/1362361313492392
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning books,  A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTHe is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

Friday, October 19, 2018

Supporting Autism Families in Schools


Parent Perspectives and Need for Support
Studies indicate that the demands placed on parents caring for a child with autism contribute to a higher overall incidence of parental stress, depression, and anxiety which adversely affects family functioning and marital relationships compared with parents of children with other disabilities. It is well established that social support is protective of optimal parent well-being and, therefore, a key element of intervention and treatment. Supporting and ensuring the family system’s emotional and physical health is a critical component of best practice.
School professionals working with families of children with an ASD should be aware of the negative effects of stress and anxiety and assist in offering services that directly address parental needs and support mental health. Negative outcomes include: (a) increased risk of marital problems; (b) decrease in father’s involvement; (c) greater parenting and psychological distress; (d) higher levels of anxiety and depression; (f) added pressure on the family system; (g) more physical and health related issues; (h) decrease in adaptive coping skills; and (i) greater stress on mothers than fathers. Parents often experience stress as they decide how to allocate their attention and energy across family members. For example, they may feel guilty about the limited time they spend with their spouse and other children, when so much of their attention is focused on the child with ASD.
Understanding parent perspectives and targeting parental stress is critical in enhancing well-being and the parent-child relationship. School professionals who have knowledge and understanding of the stressors parents face are able to provide more effective assistance and support to the family. When families receive a diagnosis of autism, a period of anxiety, insecurity, and confusion often follow. Some autism specialists have suggested that parents go through stages of grief and mourning similar to the stages experienced with a loss of a loved one (e.g., fear, denial, anger, bargaining/guilt, depression and acceptance). Sensitivity to this process can help school professionals provide support to families during the critical period following the child’s autism diagnosis when parents are learning to navigate the complex system of autism services.
Mothers, in particular, may experience high levels of psychological distress, depressive symptoms, and social isolation. Research has found that nearly 40% of mothers reported clinically significant levels of parenting stress and between 33% and 59% experienced significant depressive symptoms following their child’s diagnosis of ASD. Challenges in obtaining a timely ASD diagnosis and lack of appropriate treatment services and education were contributors to parental stress and dissatisfaction. Frequently reported important unmet needs include (1) financial support; (2) break from responsibilities; (3) rest/sleep; and (4) help remaining hopeful about the future.
Support, Educate, Advocate

School professionals can support parents by educating them about ASD; provide guidance and training; assist them in obtaining access to resources; offer emotional support by listening and talking through problems; and help advocate for their child’s needs. It is especially important to acknowledge the value of parents’ unique and important perspective, validate their observations and concerns, and reinforce their roles as important contributors to the educational process. Professionals should also help the family understand what the identification or diagnosis of ASD means and what the next steps are in addressing the issues of support and educational planning. This includes helping parents achieve a better understanding of how their child thinks and learns differently and become familiar with strategies that might help both at home and school. For example, parents can be taught evidence-based strategies that successfully support their children with ASD. Parent-implemented interventions have the potential to improve the child’s communication skills and reduce aggression and disruptive behaviors, as well as increase the functioning of the family system. Parents can learn to implement story-based interventions, visual supports/schedules, and Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) strategies in their home and/or community through individual or group training formats. Professionals can also assist families by offering parent training in behavior management, which has been shown to increase parents’ self-efficacy and decrease their child’s problematic behaviors. Establishing a school-based parent support group may also be consideration.
Another major strategy for helping families with children with ASD is providing information on the access to ongoing supports and services. This includes publicly funded, state-administrated programs such as early intervention, special education, vocational and residential/living services, and respite services. Professionals and family advocates need to be aware of the various programs and their respective eligibility requirements and help parents to access these services. Parents will also need timely and appropriate information regarding their children’s programs and services and may have questions about long-term educational planning. It is important to openly communicate the student’s strengths and weaknesses and encourage parents to play an active role in developing and implementing intervention plans and IEPs. Professionals should also remember that parents have a life-long role in their child’s development and realize that the family’s needs will change over time, and that they have other family responsibilities in addition to their child with autism. When schools use a family-centered approach and work to increase parental involvement and support, not only do the parents and children benefit, but school personnel do as well.

Adapted from Wilkinson, L. A. (2016).  A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools (2nd Edition). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 
Key References & Further Reading
Barnhill, G. P. (2014). Collaboration between families and schools. In L. A. Wilkinson (Ed.), Autism spectrum disorder in children and adolescents:  Evidence-based assessment and intervention in schools (pp. 219-241). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Estes, A., Munson, J., Dawson, G., Koehler, E., Zhou, X., & Abbott, R. (2009). Parenting stress and psychological functioning among mothers of preschool children with autism and developmental delay. Autism, 13, 375-387.

Feinberg, E., Augustyn, M., Fitzgerald, E., Sandler, J., Ferreira-Cesar Suarez, Z., Chen, N…Silverstein, M. (2014). Improving maternal mental health after a child’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder: Results from a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(1), 40-46. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3445.

Giallo, R., Wood, C. E., Jellett, R., & Porter, R. (2013). Fatigue, wellbeing and parental self-efficacy in mothers of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism, 17, 465-480.

Hardan, A. Y., Gengoux, G. W., Berquist, K. L., Libove, R. A., Ardel, C. M., Phillips, J…Minjarez, M. B. (2015), A randomized controlled trial of Pivotal Response Treatment Group for parents of children with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56, 884-892. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12354

Hoffman, C. D., Sweeney, D. P., Hodge, D., Lopez-Wagner, M. C., & Looney, L. (2009)
Parenting stress and closeness: Mothers of typically developing children and mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 24, 178-187.

Kiami, S. R., & Goodgold, S. (2017). Support Needs and Coping Strategies as
Predictors of Stress Level among Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research and Treatment Volume 2017, Article ID 8685950, https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/8685950

Myers, S. M., & Johnson, C. P. (2007). Management of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics, 120, 1162-1182. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-2362

National Autism Center. (2015). Evidence-based practice and autism in the schools: An educator’s guide to providing appropriate interventions to students with autism spectrum disorder (2nd ed.). Randolph, MA: Author

Rogers, S. J., & Vismara, L. A. (2008). Evidence-based comprehensive treatments for early autism. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 37, 8-38.

Wagner, S. (2014). Continuum of services and individualized education plan process. In L. A.
Wilkinson (Ed.). Autism spectrum disorder in children and adolescents:  Evidence-based assessment and intervention in schools (pp. 173-193). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Wilkinson, L.A. (2016). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools (2nd edition). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Weiss, J. A., Cappadocia, M. C., MacMullin, J. A., Viecili, M., & Lunsky, Y. (2012). The impact of child problem behaviors of children with ASD on parent mental health: The mediating role of acceptance and empowerment. Autism, 16, 261-274. doi: 10.1177/1362361311422708

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning books,  A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTHe is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Can School Professionals Diagnose Autism?

Can School Professionals Diagnose Autism?

Since Congress added autism as a disability category to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the number of students receiving special education services in this category has increased over 900 percent nationally. The number of students receiving assistance under the special education category of autism over the past decade has increased from 1.5 percent to 9 percent of all identified disabilities. Autism now ranks fourth among all IDEA disability categories for students age 6-21. It’s critically important that school professionals understand the parameters of providing evidence-based assessment and identification practices for children and adolescents who may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) are the two major systems used to diagnose and classify children with ASD. The DSM-5 is considered the primary authority in the fields of psychiatric and psychological (clinical) diagnoses, while IDEA is the authority with regard to eligibility decisions for special education. The DSM was developed by clinicians as a diagnostic and classification system for both childhood and adult psychiatric disorders. The IDEA is not a diagnostic system per se, but rather federal legislation designed to ensure the appropriate education of children with special educational needs in our public schools. Unlike the DSM-5, IDEA specifies categories of ‘‘disabilities’’ to determine eligibility for special educational services. The definitions of these categories (there are 13), including autism, are the most widely used classification system in our schools. According to IDEA regulations, the definition of autism is as follows:
(c)(1)(i) Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child’s educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance, as defined in this section.
(ii) A child who manifests the characteristics of ‘‘autism’’ after age 3 could be diagnosed as having ‘‘autism’’ if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.
This educational definition is considered sufficiently broad and operationally acceptable to accommodate both the clinical and educational descriptions of autism and related disorders. While the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria are professionally helpful, they are neither legally required nor sufficient for determining educational placement. A medical diagnosis from a doctor or mental health professional alone is not enough to qualify a child for special education services. It is state and federal education codes and regulations (not DSM-5) that drive classification and eligibility decisions. In fact, the National Research Council (2001) recommends that all children identified with ASD, regardless of severity, be made eligible for special educational services under the IDEA category of autism. Thus, school professionals must ensure that children meet the criteria for autism as outlined by IDEA or state education agency (SEA) and may use the DSM-5 to the extent that the diagnostic criteria include the same core behaviors. All professionals, whether clinical or school, should have the appropriate training and background related to the diagnosis and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders. The identification of autism should be made by a professional team using multiple sources of information, including, but not limited to an interdisciplinary assessment of social behavior, language and communication, adaptive behavior, motor skills, sensory issues, and cognitive functioning to help with intervention planning and determining eligibility for special educational services.
Legal and special education experts recommend the following guidelines to help school districts meet the requirements for providing legally and educationally appropriate programs and services to students who meet special education eligibility for autism.
1. School districts should ensure that the IEP process follows the procedural requirements of IDEA. This includes actively involving parents in the IEP process and adhering to the time frame requirements for assessment and developing and implementing the student’s IEP. Moreover, parents must be notified of their due process rights. It’s important to recognize that parent-professional communication and collaboration are key components for making educational and program decisions.
2. School districts should make certain that comprehensive, individualized evaluations are completed by school professionals who have knowledge, experience, and expertise in ASD. If qualified personnel are not available, school districts should provide the appropriate training or retain the services of a consultant.
3. School districts should develop IEPs based on the child’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Goals for a child with ASD commonly include the areas of communication, social behavior, adaptive skills, challenging behavior, and academic and functional skills. The IEP must address appropriate instructional and curricular modifications, together with related services such as counseling, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, physical therapy and transportation needs. Evidence-based instructional strategies should also be adopted to ensure that the IEP is implemented appropriately.
4. School districts should assure that progress monitoring of students with ASD is completed at specified intervals by an interdisciplinary team of professionals who have a knowledge base and experience in autism. This includes collecting evidence-based data to document progress towards achieving IEP goals and to assess program effectiveness.
5. School districts should make every effort to place students in integrated settings to maximize interaction with non-disabled peers. Inclusion with typically developing students is important for a child with ASD as peers provide the best models for language and social skills. However, inclusive education alone is insufficient, evidence-based intervention and training is also necessary to address specific skill deficits. Although the least restrictive environment (LRE) provision of IDEA requires that efforts be made to educate students with special needs in less restrictive settings, IDEA also recognizes that some students may require a more comprehensive program to provide FAPE.
6. School districts should provide on-going training and education in ASD for both parents and professionals. Professionals who are trained in specific methodology and techniques will be most effective in providing the appropriate services and in modifying curriculum based upon the unique needs of the individual child.

Key References and Further Reading

Aiello, R., Ruble, L., & Esler, A. (2017). National Study of School Psychologists’ Use of Evidence-Based Assessment in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Applied School Psychology33(1), 67-88. DOI: 10.1080/15377903.2016.1236307
American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education. (2014). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.

Campbell, J. M., Ruble, L. A., & Hammond, R. K. (2014). Comprehensive Developmental Approach Assessment Model. In L. A. Wilkinson (Ed.), Autism spectrum disorders in children and adolescents: Evidence-based assessment and intervention (pp. 51-73). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Doepke, K. J., Banks, B. M., Mays, J. F., Toby, L. M., & Landau, S. (2014). Co-occurring emotional and behavior problems in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In L. Wilkinson (Ed.), Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children and Adolescence: Evidence-based Assessment and Intervention in Schools (pp. 125-148). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. Pub. L. No. 108-446, 108th Congress, 2nd Session. (2004).

Kratochwill, T. R. (2007). Preparing psychologists for evidence based school practice: Lessons learned and challenges ahead. American Psychologist, 62, 826-843.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2016). School Psychologists’ Involvement in Assessment. Bethesda, MD: Author.
National Research Council (2001). Educating children with autism. Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. C. Lord & J. P. McGee (Eds). Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Ozonoff, S., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., & Solomon, M. (2005). Evidence-based assessment of autism spectrum disorders in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 523–540.
Twachtman-Cullen, D., & Twachtman-Bassett, J. (2011). The IEP from A to Z: How to create meaningful and measurable goals and objectives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition (2007).

Yell, M. L., Katsiyannis, A, Drasgow, E, & Herbst, M. (2003). Developing legally correct and educationally appropriate programs for students with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18, 182-191.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2016). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools (second edition). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Zirkel, P. A. (2014). Legal issues under IDEA. In L. A. Wilkinson (Ed.). Autism spectrum disorder in children and adolescents: Evidence-based assessment and intervention in schools (pp 243-257). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning books,  A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTHe is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Restricted & Repetitive Behavior (RRB) in Autism: Assessment & Future Directions

Restricted and Repetitive Behavior (RRB) in Autism

The DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) include restricted and repetitive behavior (RRB) as a core diagnostic feature, together with the domain of social communication and social interaction deficits. RRBs include: (a) stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (b) excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change; (c) highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus; and (d) hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Studies of RRBs have identified two sub-groups; one comprising repetitive sensory and motor behaviors (RSMB), such as repetitive hand or finger movements and rocking, and the other consisting of behaviors such as narrow interests, rigid routines, and rituals routines, which are collectively referred to as insistence on sameness (IS) (Bishop et al., 2013; Bishop, Richler, & Lord, 2006; Richler, Huerta, Bishop, & Lord, 2010).
Research indicates that repetitive behaviors may be among the earliest-emerging signs of autism (Wolff et al., 2014). There is also evidence to suggest that different types of RRB may be predictive of co-occurring mental health problems. For example, children with ASD who demonstrate high levels of ritualistic and sameness behavior have been found to show more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression (Stratis & Lecavalier, 2013). Parents of children and teens also report that RRBs are one of the most challenging features of ASD due to their significant interference with daily life. They can significantly impede learning and socialization by decreasing the likelihood of positive interactions with peers and adults. Given the importance of RRBs as a core feature of ASD, professionals should give increased attention to the assessment and presence of these behaviors, and their impact on the adaptability and psychological well-being of children and youth with ASD (Stratis & Lecavalier, 2013).
                                                                           Assessment
Rating scales and questionnaires are the most frequently used methods of measuring RRBs. For example, measures such as the Autism Spectrum Rating Scales (ASRS; Goldstein & Naglieri, 2010) and Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2; Constantino & Gruber, 2012) incorporate scales and treatment clusters assessing stereotypical behaviors, sensory sensitivity, and highly restricted interests characteristic of ASD. There are also specialized parent/caregiver questionnaires available that focus solely on restricted and repetitive behaviors and provide a more complete understanding of the impact of RRB factors on adaptive functioning. Of these questionnaires, the most commonly used are the Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised (RBS-R; Bodfish, Symons, Parker, & Lewis, 2000) and the Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire-2 (RBQ-2; Leekam et al., 2007). Both cover a wide range of repetitive behaviors and were designed as a quantitative index of RRB, rather than relying exclusively on the above referenced broad-based ASD measures to assess RRBs. 
The RBS-R is a parent report of repetitive behaviors in children, adolescents, and adults with ASD. It consists of 43 items and includes the following subscales: Stereotyped Behavior, Self-Injurious Behavior, Compulsive Behavior, Ritualistic Behavior, Sameness Behavior, and Restricted Behavior. For each subscale, the number of items endorsed is computed as well as the severity score for the subscale. On the last question, respondents are asked to consider all of the behaviors described in the questionnaire, and provide a global severity rating.  The RBS-R has been reported to have adequate psychometric properties, and acceptable reliability and validity for each subscale (Bodfish et al., 2000; Boyd et al., 2010; Esbensen, Seltzer, Lam, & Bodfish, 2009; Gabriels, Cuccaro, Hill, Ivers, & Goldson, 2005; Lam & Aman, 2007).
The RBQ-2 is also a parent-completed 20-item questionnaire suitable for children (with or without autism) of all ages. Item responses fall into four groups which correspond to four specific areas: Repetitive Motor Movements, Rigidity/Adherence to Routine, Preoccupation with Restricted Interests, and Unusual Sensory Interests. Questionnaire scores can be added to provide a Total Repetitive Behaviors Score. As with previous research on RRBs, two clusters can be identified: RSMB, which corresponds to repetitive motor movements and unusual sensory interests, and IS, which corresponds to adherence to routine and restricted interests. The reliability and validity of the RBQ-2 has been supported with children and adolescents (Lidstone et al., 2014).
Future Directions

Restricted and repetitive behavior (RRB) is a core diagnostic feature of ASD. Although these behaviors present a major barrier to learning and social adaptation, most of the research on ASD has focused on social and communication deficits, with less attention given to the RRB symptom domain (Boyd, McDonough, & Bodfish, 2012; Leekam, Prior, & Uljarevic, 2011). Further research and is needed to better understand their development, expression, assessment, and related clinical features (e.g., cognitive ability, adaptive functioning, comorbid disorders) (Stratis & Lecavalier, 2013). For example, it is important to understand how RRBs in typical development vary across time in order to compare atypical trajectories in children with ASD across intellectual and adaptive levels. Future research should also be directed to understanding the RRB subtypes and their relationship to comorbid symptoms such as anxiety and depression. 
Compared to the relatively large number of evidence-based, behavioral interventions for the social communication and interaction symptoms of ASD, RRBs are less likely to be included in intervention planning. There is a need to develop evidence-based interventions that are effective in treating the continuum of repetitive behaviors in order to provide support in this domain and improve RRBs before these behaviors become well-established (Leekam et al., 2011). In terms of assessment, measures such as the RBS-R and RBQ-2 should be included in a comprehensive developmental assessment to provide a more complete understanding of specific RRBs and their impact on adaptive functioning, as well as inform intervention selection (see Wilkinson for a description of assessment domains and recommended measures). Lastly, it is important to provide parents with education and training on how to effectively address these inflexible and repetitive patterns of behaviors that affect their everyday lives.
Adapted from Wilkinson, L. A. (2016). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Key References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.
Bishop, S.L., Hus, V., Duncan, A., Huerta, M., Gotham, K., Pickles, A., Kreiger, A., Buja, A., Lund, S., Lord, C. (2013). Subcategories of restricted and repetitive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43, 1287-97. doi:  10.1007/s10803-012-1671-0
Bodfish, J.W., Symons, F.J., Parker, D.E., & Lewis, M.H. (2000). Varieties of repetitive behavior in autism: Comparisons to mental retardation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 237–243.

Boyd, B. A., McDonough, S. G., & and Bodfish, J. W. (2012). Evidence-based behavioral interventions for repetitive behaviors in autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 1236-1248. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1284-z
Esbensen, A. J., Seltzer, M., Lam, K., & Bodfish, J. W. (2009). Age-related differences in restricted repetitive behaviors in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 57–66. doi:10.1007/s10803-008-0599-x
Lam, K. S. L. & M. G. Aman (2007). The Repetitive Behavior Scale-Revised: Independent validation in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(5): 855-866.
Leekam, S, Tandos, J., McConachie, H., Meins, E., Parkinson, K., Wright, C…Le Couteur, A. (2007). Repetitive behaviours in typically developing 2-year-olds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48, 11, 1131-1138.
Leekam, S. R., Prior, M. R., & Uljarevic, M. (2011). Restricted and repetitive behaviors in autism spectrum disorders: A review of research in the last decade. Psychological Bulletin, 137, 562–593. doi: 10.1037/a0023341
Stratis, E. A., & Lecavalier, L. (2013). Restricted and repetitive behaviors and psychiatric symptoms in youth with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7, 757–766.
Wolff, J.J., Botteron, K. N., Dager, S.R., Elison, J. T., Estes, A. M., Gu, H…Piven, J. (2014). Longitudinal patterns of repetitive behavior in toddlers with autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55, 945-53. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12207
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning books,  A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTHe is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series,  Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

© 2018 Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sensory Processing in Autism: Assessment & Intervention Strategies

Sensory Processing in Autism: Assessment and Intervention

Unusual sensory responses (i.e., sensory over-responsivity, sensory under-responsivity, and sensory seeking) are relatively common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sensory issues are now included in the DSM-5 ASD symptom criteria for restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities (RRB), and include hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment; such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). When present, these problems can interfere with adaptability in many areas of life (communication, daily living, socialization, occupational). For example, sensory processing problems have been found to be associated with eating problems and physical aggression in children with ASD (Mazurek, Kanne, & Wodka, 2013; Nadon, Feldman, Dunn, & Gisel, 2011). 
Assessment
Understanding that sensory features can have a negative impact on daily life skills of children with ASD, efforts should be made to ensure early identification of these sensory features to improve their functional and psychosocial outcomes. Although ASD measures such as the ASRS, SRS-2, and CARS-2 include items that assess sensory sensitivity and unusual sensory interests, questionnaires are available that focus “solely” on the sensory processing domain. For example, the Sensory Profile, Second Edition (SP-2; Dunn, 2014) and the Sensory Processing Measure (SPM; Parham, Ecker, Miller Kuhaneck, Henry, & Glennon,, 2007) are both questionnaires that can be used to assess sensory processing and behaviors across various childhood environments (home and school). 

The SP-2 is a widely administered family of questionnaires which measure children’s responses to certain sensory processing, modulation, and behavioral/emotional events in the context of home, school, and community-based activities. Each form provides a combination of Sensory System (Auditory, Visual, Touch, Movement, Body Position, Oral), Behavior (Conduct, Social-Emotional, Attention), and Sensory Pattern (Seeking, Avoiding, Sensitivity, Registration) scores. A short version (Short Sensory Profile-2) is available for screening and can be completed in 5 to 10 minutes. The Sensory Profile School Companion-2, a school-based measure, is also available to evaluate a child’s sensory processing skills and their effect on classroom behavior. It can be used in conjunction with other SP-2 measures to provide a comprehensive evaluation of sensory behavior across home and school settings (Dunn 2001; Kern et al., 2007; Crane, Goddard, & Pring, 2009).
The SPM is a norm-referenced assessment that produces scores for two higher level integrative functions (praxis and social participation) and five sensory systems (visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular functioning). Processing vulnerabilities within each system include under- and over-responsiveness, sensory-seeking behavior, and perceptual problems. Three forms comprise the SPM (Home Form, Main Classroom Form, and School Environments Form), which provide a comprehensive picture of children's sensory processing difficulties at home and school. Each requiring 15 to 20 minutes, the Home and Main Classroom Forms yield eight parallel standard scores: Social Participation; Vision; Hearing; Touch; Body Awareness (proprioception); Balance and Motion (vestibular function); Planning and Ideas (praxis); and Total Sensory Systems. An Environment Difference score allows direct comparison of the child’s sensory functioning at home and at school. Both the SP-2 and SPM have been used with children with ASD and have utility in program planning and developing accommodations for unusual sensory responses. Regardless of the questionnaire used, practitioners should use several other sources of information when documenting sensory features in children with ASD, including interviews with parents and teachers along with behavioral observations.
                                                               Intervention Strategies
Best practice guidelines indicate that when needed, comprehensive educational programs for children with ASD should integrate an appropriately structured physical and sensory milieu in order to accommodate unique sensory processing patterns (Wilkinson, 2016). Students with ASD frequently require accommodations and modifications to prevent the negative effects that school and community environments can have on their sensory systems. These include (a) reducing the amount of material posted on classroom wall for a student who has problems with excessive visual stimulation; (b) teaching the student to recognize the problem and ask in their mode of communication to leave the area; (c) providing a low distraction, visually clear area for work; (d) providing alternative seating and a quiet/calming space when students become overwhelmed; and (e) using headphones or similar device to minimize high noise levels. Practitioners employing sensory integration therapy (SIT) should use clinical reasoning, existing evidence, and outcomes to create a comprehensive, individualized program for each student, rather than utilizing isolated, specific sensory interventions. Parents and professionals might also be advised that the research regarding the effectiveness of SIT is limited and inconclusiveAccommodations, modifications, and support services needed to address sensory issues should be integrated into the student’s individualized educational program (IEP) and/or treatment plan. The collaboration of knowledgeable professionals (e.g., occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, physical therapists, adaptive physical educators) is necessary to provide guidance about supports and strategies for children whose sensory processing and/or motoric difficulties interfere with educational performance and access to the curriculum. 
                                                                 Concluding Comments
Unusual sensory responses (i.e., sensory over-responsivity, sensory under-responsivity, and sensory seeking) are relatively common in children with ASD and when present, may interfere with performance in many developmental and functional domains across home and school contexts. Practitioners must be alert to the presence of certain sensory features specific to children with ASD, including hyporeactive and sensory-seeking profiles, along with difficulties in the hearing, tactile, gustatory, olfactory, and proprioceptive domains (Dugas, Simard, Fombonne & Couture, 2018). The persistence of sensory features from an early age highlights the need for identification and management to improve functional and psychosocial outcomes. Because they are often overlooked in many ASD assessment procedures, attention to sensory problems should be an integral component of a comprehensive developmental assessment as they are often a prominent and concerning feature of the individual’s behavioral profile (Dunn, 2001; Harrison & Hare, 2004). Interviews and observation schedules, together with an evaluation of social behavior, language and communication, adaptive behavior, motor skills, sensory issues, atypical behaviors, and cognitive functioning are recommended best practice assessment procedures (Campbell, Ruble, & Hammond, 2014; National Research Council 2001; Ozonoff, Goodlin-Jones, & Solomon, 2007; Wilkinson, 2016). Because ASD affects multiple areas of functioning, an interdisciplinary team approach is essential for establishing a developmental and psychosocial profile of the child to guide intervention planning. Further information on best practice guidelines for assessment and intervention is available from A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).
Adapted from Wilkinson, L. A. (2016). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools (Second Edition). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
                                                Key References and Further Reading
American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine and Council on Children with Disabilities, Policy Statement (2012). Sensory integration therapies for children with developmental and behavioral disorders. Pediatrics, 1186-1189. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-0876. Available from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/05/23/peds.2012-0876.full.pdf+html
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2010). The scope of occupational therapy services for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder across the life course. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64 (Suppl.), S125–S136.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Washington, DC: Author.
Baranek, G. T. (2002). Efficacy of sensory and motor interventions for children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 397-422.
Campbell, J. M., Ruble, L. A., & Hammond, R. K. (2014). Comprehensive Developmental Approach Assessment Model. In L. A. Wilkinson (Ed.), Autism spectrum disorders in children and adolescents: Evidence-based assessment and intervention (pp. 51-73). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Constantino, J. N., & Gruber, C. P. (2012). Social Responsiveness Scale (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Crane, L., Goddard, L., & Pring, L. (2009). Sensory processing in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 13, 215-228.
Dugas, C., Simard, M.-N., Fombonne, E., & Couture, M. (2018). Comparison of two tools to assess sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7201195010. https://doi. org/10.5014/ajot.2018.024604

Dunn, W. (2014). Sensory Profile-2. San Antonio, TX: Pearson.
Goldstein, S., & Naglieri, J. A. (2010). Autism Spectrum Rating Scales. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems, Inc.
Kern, J. K., Trevidi, M. H., Grannemann, B. D., Garver, C. R., Johnson, D. G., Andrews, A. A… Schroeder, J. L. (2007). Sensory correlations in autism. Autism, 11, 123-134.
Mazurek, M. O., Kanne, S. M., & Wodka, E. L. (2013).  Physical aggression in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7, 455–465.
Nadon, G., Feldman, D. E., Dunn, W., & Gisel, E. (2011). Association of sensory processing and eating problems in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research and Treatment, Article ID 541926, 8 pages. doi:10.1155/2011/541926
National Autism Center (2015). Findings and conclusions: National standards project, phase 2. Randolph, MA: Author. Available from: http://www.nationalautismcenter.org/national-standards-project/phase-2/
National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders. (2015). Evidence-Based Practices. Available from: http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/evidence-based-practices
National Research Council (2001). Educating children with autism. Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. C. Lord & J. P. McGee (Eds). Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
O’Neil, M. & Jones, R. S. (1997) Sensory-perceptual abnormalities in autism: A case for more research? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 3, 283–93.
Ozonoff, S., Goodlin-Jones, B. L., & Solomon, M. (2007). Autism spectrum disorders. In E. J. Mash & R. A. Barkley (Eds.). Assessment of childhood disorders (4th ed., pp. 487-525). New York: Guilford.
Parham, L., Ecker, C., Miller-Kuhanek, H., Henry, D. A., Glennon, T. J. (2007). Sensory Processing Measure. Torrance, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Perez Repetto, L., Jasmin, E., Fombonne, E., Gisel, E. and Couture, M. (2017). Longitudinal Study of Sensory Features in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism Research and Treatment, 2017, pp.1-8. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/1934701

Research Autism. Sensory Integration and Autism. Available from: http://researchautism.net/interventions/28/sensory-integrative-therapy-and-autism
Schopler, E, Van Bourgondien, M. E., Wellman, G. J., & Love, S. R. (2010). Childhood Autism Rating Scale (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.
Wilkinson, L. A. (2016). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism spectrum disorder in schools. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. A., Cox, C. W., Fettig, A., Kurcharczyk…Schultz, T. R. (2015). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: A comprehensive review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 1951-66. doi: 10.1007/s10803-014-2351-z

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He provides consultation services and best practice guidance to school systems, agencies, advocacy groups, and professionals on a wide variety of topics related to children and youth with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning books,  A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools and Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBTHe is also editor of a best-selling text in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

© 2018 Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD

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