Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2023

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Beverly J Wilson, PhD

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Lynette Bikos, Ph.D., ABPP

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Tracy Jirikowic, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA

Abstract

The COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020 introduced a sudden disruption to the people’s daily routines, including changes to sleep schedules and, thus, sleep quality. Generally, children with developmental disabilities (DD), such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), experience higher levels of sleep difficulties compared to typically developing youth. These sleep difficulties have been linked to social and emotional abilities, cognitive development, and adaptive functioning. One component found to impact sleep behaviors is sensory processing differences. Individuals with ASD and other DDs exhibit greater levels of these sensory concerns. The current study sought to understand how the sleep behaviors of ASD and DD youth changed during the pandemic, and further how these populations may have differed in those changes. Sleep patterns during the pandemic were also examined with respect to the role that sensory differences may have had within sleep changes. In line with previous research, I hypothesized that children with ASD would experience more sleep patterns changes (i.e., duration, onset time, wake time, quality). Additionally, in line with a dimensional approach, I hypothesized that higher sensory differences would moderate the relation between diagnosis and sleep duration changes, such that those with heightened sensory concerns would experience decreases in sleep duration regardless of diagnosis. The current sample was comprised of 55 youth (ages 1 to 18) with ASD and other DDs, and their parents. Changes in sleep was measured by a shortened version based on the Children’s Sleep Health Questionnaire (CSHQ; Owens et al., 2000) and sensory processing differences were measured by the Short Sensory Profile (SSP; McIntosh et al., 1999). No significant difference was found between ASD and DD youth with regards to sleep changes. A trending moderating effect of sensory scores was seen on diagnosis and sleep duration changes. This was further explored to reveal a significant main effect of high sensory seeking on decreased sleep during the pandemic, indicating a need for increased focus on providing more intervention-level supports for sensory-seeking youth with DDs during times of global stress. Additionally, these results support a need for future studies on impacts of stressors on those with sensory concerns and DDs.

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