Date of Award

Summer 6-18-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly J. Wilson, PhD

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Lynette Bikos, PhD, ABPP

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Tracy Jirikowic, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) present with varying degrees of deficit in the broader areas of social communication and stereotyped behaviors, but emerging research proposes delayed motor skill and atypical sensory processing as additional factors worth closer examination. In the current study, I sought to investigate the impacts of visual motor skills and sensory differences on language ability in young children with autism. I hypothesized that young children with autism, atypical sensory processing (Short Sensory Profile, 2nd Edition), and impaired visual motor integration (Beery VMI, 6th Edition) would have the most impacted language ability scores (Differential Ability Scales, 2nd Edition). A total of 22 children, eight with autism (25% female; M age = 66 months or 5.5 years) and 14 with typical development (50% female; M age = 73 months or 6 years) between the ages of 3:0 and 9:6 and their parents completed measures for this study. Findings were significant for the relations of status (i.e., TD vs. ASD) on language ability [t(20) = 2.66, p = .015], status on visual motor integration [t(20) = 2.27, p = .035], and for status on sensory processing [t(20) = -5.35, p < .001]. Results of the three-way interaction indicated that 72% of the variance in language ability was accounted for by the key variables in this model, but this hypothesis was not supported: p = .09, B = .15, CI95 = -.031 to .33. Related hypotheses of visual motor integration on status and language, sensory processing on status and language, and between visual motor integration and sensory were also not supported. Ancillary analyses of individual moderation indicated significant status group (TD vs. ASD) differences for children with visual motor integration full form standard scores of 119 and below (p < .05) and for children with total sensory scores of 25 to 36 (p < .05). These post hoc findings are consistent with previous literature and demonstrate promise for replication in future research with a larger and more heterogeneous sample. Further research on these constructs is encouraged as it could inform meaningful pathways for early intervention.