Sensory subtypes in children on the autism spectrum

Children on the autism spectrum experience a significant range of traits. A major research goal is to better understand this full range of traits, to assist with identifying which interventions may be most effective for which children. Sensory profiles including hyper-reactivity, hypo-reactivity and unusual sensory interests are behavioural characteristics of autism that may provide insights into clinically meaningful subtypes. Prior research has identified distinct sensory subtypes relating to features associated with sensory reactivity (the intensity of the behavioural response to a sensory stimulus) and sensory integration (combining information from multiple sensory stimuli). Within the autism field, however, most sensory features are measured using tools that focus on sensory reactivity only.

This project aimed to identify sensory subtypes in children and adolescents on the autism spectrum aged 3-15 years and to evaluate the relationship between sensory subtypes and autistic traits and characteristics. Participants were recruited via the Australian Autism Biobank and the Longitudinal study of Australian Students with Autism (LASA) and from the NSW KU Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC).

The study revealed differences that were largely linked to severity gradient in terms of sensory responsivity. We also found a subtype characterised predominantly by emotional regulation and attentional difficulties. The long term objective is to utilise the results of these analyses to identify homogeneous subgroups and to inform whether supports for young children on the autism spectrum based on their sensory profile optimise outcomes in school participation, and independent daily living.

Early Years
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Project Leader(s)
  • Anne Masi, University of New South Wales
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