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New study clarifies sensory processing in kids with autism

Sensory processing patterns in autism spectrum disorder. (Source: BrainsCAN) Sensory processing patterns in autism spectrum disorder. (Source: BrainsCAN)
Middlesex Centre, Ont. -

A new study involving researchers at Western University in London, Ont. that looked at sensory abilities in children with autism points to a need for more tailored environments.

The study looked at whether reactions to sensory information, which can be a challenge for those with autism, tended to occur together.

Nichole Scheerer, a postdoctoral fellow at Wester BrainsCAN and first author of the study, said in a statement they were looking for patterns of co-occurrence.

“If someone tends to be more sensitive to sound, are they also going to be more sensitive to light? If someone is sensitive to textures and tactile stimulation (things like pain and temperature), are they also sensitive to tastes, but not sensitive to light?”

Researchers were able to identify five categories of sensory processing in autism:

  • taste and smell sensitivity
  • under responsive and sensation seeking
  • movement difficulties with low energy
  • little difficulty in sensory processing
  • difficulties in all areas of sensory processing.

These categories were then linked to common behavioural traits including; socialization difficulties, communication issues, repetition or compulsions, and clinical traits found in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Western Psychology Professor Ryan Stevenson, senior author of the study explained, “Children with different sensory processing patterns also showed differences in adaptive behaviours and daily living skills. This shows that sensory differences can have a big impact on the day-to-day experiences of autistic children.”

There is hope that better understanding the sensory categories will lead to a more tailored approach to supportive environments that can help accommodate them.

“An autistic child might perform poorly in the classroom, not because they have cognitive difficulties. Rather, because they process sensory information differently than their peers, the sensory environment in their classroom may interfere with their ability to concentrate and perform cognitively,” added Scheerer.

“This really highlights that in order to help autistic children and make a difference in their lives, we need to invest in creating sensory-friendly environments and do a better job of accommodating sensory needs.”

The study was published in the journal Molecular Autism. Top Stories

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