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A Lot to Maintain: Caregiver Accommodation of Sensory Processing Differences in Early Childhood


Childhood sensory processing differences (SPD) have been linked with primary caregiver stress, while caregiver stress has been associated with reduced responsivity to the child. This pattern has the potential to influence the relationship between primary caregivers and their young children with SPD. The experiences of these caregivers illuminate the ways in which providers can better serve families and promote healthy connections. The aims of this study were to examine the ways in which caregivers described early attunement with their child with SPD and the ways they were able to accommodate their child’s specific sensory needs within the context of the parent-child relationship in the first three years of life. Qualitative data was collected using a semi-structured interview of 12 participants, who were self-identified primary caregivers of children with SPD. Children were aged 3–11 at the time of the interviews. Sensory processing scores indicated that the children demonstrated significant differences in sensory processing, including in several specific areas of sensory processing. During the interviews, participants described the ways that they accommodated their children’s specific sensory needs. Analysis resulted in four aspects of accommodation by caregivers: adjustment to specific kinds of touch or holding, finding new ways to interact, seeking new parenting approaches, and accommodation as connection. While caregivers described significant patterns of attunement, they also described associated strain. Recommendations for future research include examination of a more diverse sample including protective factors associated with cultural parenting practices that might benefit children with SPD, and the relationship with their caregivers.


  • This study examined caregivers’ early attunement with their child with sensory processing differences.

  • Participants were attuned to their children’s specific sensory needs, even before formal evaluation.

  • Participants identified four specific aspects of their accommodation of their children’s sensory processing differences.

  • Caregivers described the need for supports and validation, particularly from providers.

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Correspondence to Katherine M. Walbam.

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Approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Board of Simmons University. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Walbam, K.M. A Lot to Maintain: Caregiver Accommodation of Sensory Processing Differences in Early Childhood. J Child Fam Stud 32, 2199–2213 (2023).

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