Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 315–319 | Cite as

Brief Report: Effects of Sensory Sensitivity and Intolerance of Uncertainty on Anxiety in Mothers of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Brief Report


This study examined the relations between anxiety and individual characteristics of sensory sensitivity (SS) and intolerance of uncertainty (IU) in mothers of children with ASD. The mothers of 50 children completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Highly Sensitive Person Scale and the IU Scale. Anxiety was associated with both SS and IU and IU was also associated with SS. Mediation analyses showed direct effects between anxiety and both IU and SS but a significant indirect effect was found only in the model in which IU mediated between SS. This is the first study to characterize the nature of the IU and SS interrelation in predicting levels of anxiety.


Sensory sensitivity Intolerance of uncertainty Parents Anxiety Autism spectrum disorders 



We greatly appreciate the support and time given by the parents who were involved in the research.

Author contribution

Dr. Uljarević conceptualized and designed the study, carried out the initial analysis, drafted the initial manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr. Carrington contributed to the analysis, reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr. Leekam contributed to the conceptualization of the study, reviewed and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare no conflict of interest.


  1. Ahadi, B., & Basharpoor, S. (2010). Relationship between sensory processing sensitivity, personality dimensions and mental health. Journal of Applied Sciences, 10(7), 570–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  3. Aron, E., & Aron, A. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 345–368.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aron, E., 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.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barlow, D. H., Allen, L. B., & Choate, M. L. (2004). Towards a unified treatment for emotional disorders. Behavior Therapy, 35(2), 205–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beck, A., Hastings, R. P., Daley, D., & Stevenson, J. (2004). Pro-social behaviour and behaviour problems independently predict maternal stress. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 29(4), 339–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benham, G. (2006). The highly sensitive person: Stress and physical symptom reports. Personality and Individual Differences, 40(7), 1433–1440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bishop, S. L., Richler, J., Cain, A. C., & Lord, C. (2007). Predictors of perceived negative impact in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 112(6), 450–461.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boelen, P. A., & Reijntjes, A. (2009). Intolerance of uncertainty and social anxiety. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 23, 130–135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bolton, P. F., Pickles, A., Murphy, M., & Rutter, M. (1998). Autism, affective and other psychiatric disorders: Patterns of familial aggregation. Psychological Medicine, 28, 385–395.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boswell, J. F., Thompson-Hollands, J., Farchione, T. J., & Barlow, D. H. (2013). Intolerance of uncertainty: A common factor in the treatment of emotional disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(9), 630–645.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boulter, C., Freeston, M., South, M., & Rodgers, J. (2014). Intolerance of uncertainty as a framework for understanding anxiety in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(6), 1391–1402.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Boyd, B. A. (2002). Examining the relationship between stress and lack of social support in mothers of children with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 17(4), 208–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carleton, R. N., Collimore, K. C., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2010). “It’s not just the judgements—It’s that I don’t know”: Intolerance of uncertainty as a predictor of social anxiety. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 24, 189–195.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carleton, R. N., Norton, M. A., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2007). Fearing the unknown: A short version of the intolerance of uncertainty scale. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, 105–117.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, C. Y., & Hong, R. Y. (2010). Intolerance of uncertainty moderates the relation between negative life events and anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(1), 49–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ciarrochi, J., Said, T., & Deane, F. P. (2005). When simplifying life is not so bad: The link between rigidity, stressful life events, and mental health in an undergraduate population. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 33(2), 185–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dugas, M. J., Gosselin, P., & Ladouceur, R. (2001). Intolerance of uncertainty and worry: Investigating specificity in a nonclinical sample. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 25(5), 551–558.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dugas, M. J., & Koerner, N. (2005). The cognitive behavioural treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: Current status and future directions. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(1), 61–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dugas, M. J., Sevard, P., Gaudet, A., Turcotte, J., Laugesen, N., Robichaud, M., et al. (2007). Can the components of a cognitive model predict the severity of generalized anxiety disorder? Behavior Therapy, 38, 169–178.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Freeston, M., Rhéaume, J., Letarte, H., Dugas, M. J., & Ladouceur, R. (1994). Why do people worry? Personality and Individual Differences, 17(6), 791–802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldsmith, H. H., Van Hulle, C. A., Arneson, C. L., Schreiber, J. E., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (2006). A population-based twin study of parentally reported tactile and auditory defensiveness in young children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34, 393–407.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hamlyn-Wright, S., Draghi-Lorenz, R., & Ellis, J. (2007). Locus of control fails to mediate between stress and anxiety and depression in parents of children with a developmental disorder. Autism, 11, 489–501.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hayes, A. F. (2012). PROCESS: A versatile computational tool for observed variable mediation, moderation, and conditional process modeling (White paper). Retrieved from
  25. Holaway, R. M., Heimberg, R. G., & Coles, M. E. (2006). A comparison of intolerance of uncertainty in analogue obsessive–compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 20, 158–174.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Karst, J. S., & Van Hecke, A. V. (2012). Parent and family impact of autism spectrum disorders: A review and proposed model for intervention evaluation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 15(3), 247–277.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kuusikko-Gauffin, S., Pollock-Wurman, R., Mattila, M. L., Jussila, K., Ebeling, H., Pauls, D., & Moilanen, I. (2013). Social anxiety in parents of high-functioning children with autism and Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(3), 521–529.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ladouceur, R., Gosselin, P., & Dugas, M. J. (2000). Experimental manipulation of intolerance of uncertainty: A study of a theoretical model of worry. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38, 933–941.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 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.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lecavalier, L., Leone, S., & Wiltz, J. (2006). The impact of behaviour problems on caregiver stress in young people with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 50(3), 172–183.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lidstone, J., Uljarević, M., Sullivan, J., Rodgers, J., McConachie, H., Freeston, M., et al. (2014). Relations among restricted and repetitive behaviors, anxiety and sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(2), 82–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mazefsky, C. A., Folstein, S. E., & Lainhart, J. E. (2008). Brief report: Overrepresentation of mood and anxiety disorders in adults with autism and their first degree relatives: What does it mean? Autism Research, 1, 193–197.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McEvoy, P. M., & Mahoney, A. E. J. (2011). Achieving certainty about the structure of intolerance of uncertainty in a treatment-seeking sample with anxiety and depression. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 25, 112–122.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Neal, J. A., Edelmann, R. J., & Glachan, M. (2002). Behavioural inhibition and symptoms of anxiety and depression: Is there a specific relationship with social phobia? British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 41(4), 361–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oglesby, M. E., Medley, A. N., Norr, A. M., Capron, D. W., Korte, K. J., & Schmidt, N. B. (2013). Intolerance of uncertainty as a vulnerability factor for hoarding behaviors. Journal of Affective Disorders, 145, 227–231.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Piven, J., Palmer, P., Jacobi, D., Childress, D., & Arndt, S. (1997). Broader autism phenotype: Evidence from a family history study of multiple-incidence autism families. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 185–190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2004). SPSS and SAS procedures for estimating indirect effects in simple mediation models. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36, 717–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Singer, G. H. S., Ethridge, B. L., & Aldana, S. L. (2007). Primary and secondary effects of parenting and stress management interventions for parents of children with developmental disabilities: A meta-analysis. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 13(4), 357–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Uljarević, M., Prior, M., & Leekam, S. R. (2014). First evidence of sensory atypicality in mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Molecular Autism, 5, 26.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wigham, S., Rodgers, J., South, M., McConachie, H., & Freeston, M. (2015). The interplay between sensory processing abnormalities, intolerance of uncertainty, anxiety and restricted and repetitive behaviours in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(4), 943–952.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wilson, K. R., & Prior, M. R. (2011). Father involvement and child well-being. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 47, 405–407.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. World Health Organisation. (1993). Manual of the international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems tenth revision (Vol. 1, pp. 375–377). Geneva: Author.Google Scholar
  43. Zigmond, A. S., & Snaith, R. P. (1983). The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 67, 361–370.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mirko Uljarević
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sarah Carrington
    • 1
    • 3
  • Susan Leekam
    • 1
  1. 1.Wales Autism Research Centre, School of PsychologyCardiff UniversityCardiffWales, UK
  2. 2.Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, Autism CRC, School of Psychology and Public HealthLa Trobe UniversityVictoriaAustralia
  3. 3.School of Life & Health SciencesAston UniversityBirminghamUK

Personalised recommendations