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Responses to sensory and repetitive stimuli

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Parents frequently report that their children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) respond atypically to sensory stimuli. Repetitive behaviors are also part of the ASD behavioral profile. Abnormal physiological arousal may underlie both of these symptoms. Electrodermal activity (EDA) is an index of sympathetic nervous system arousal. The goals of this study were twofold: (1) to pilot methods for collecting EDA data in young children and (2) to examine hypothesized relationships among EDA, and sensory symptoms and repetitive behaviors in children with ASD as compared with children with typical development. EDA was recorded on 54 young children with ASD and on 33 children with typical development (TD) during a protocol that included baseline, exposure to sensory and repetitive stimuli, and play. Parents completed standardized questionnaires regarding their child's sensory symptoms and repetitive behaviors. Frequency and type of repetitive behavior during play was coded offline. Comparisons between EDA data for ASD and TD groups indicated no significant between-group differences in any measures. Parents of children with ASD reported more abnormal responses to sensory stimuli and more repetitive behaviors, but scores on these measures were not significantly correlated with EDA or with frequency of observed repetitive behaviors. Parent report of frequency and severity of sensory symptoms was significantly correlated with reports of repetitive behaviors in both groups. Although parents of children with ASD report high levels of sensory symptoms and repetitive behaviors, these differences are not related to measured EDA arousal or reactivity.

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