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A Multidimensional Investigation of Sensory Processing in Autism: Parent- and Self-Report Questionnaires, Psychophysical Thresholds, and Event-Related Potentials in the Auditory and Somatosensory Modalities.

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Reconciling results obtained using different types of sensory measures is a challenge for autism sensory research. The present study used questionnaire, psychophysical, and neurophysiological measures to characterize autistic sensory processing in different measurement modalities.


Participants were 46 autistic and 21 typically developing 11- to 14-year-olds. Participants and their caregivers completed questionnaires regarding sensory experiences and behaviors. Auditory and somatosensory event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded as part of a multisensory ERP task. Auditory detection, tactile static detection, and tactile spatial resolution psychophysical thresholds were measured.


Sensory questionnaires strongly differentiated between autistic and typically developing individuals, while little evidence of group differences was observed in psychophysical thresholds. Crucially, the different types of measures (neurophysiological, psychophysical, questionnaire) appeared to be largely independent of one another. However, we unexpectedly found autistic participants with larger auditory Tb ERP amplitudes had reduced hearing acuity, even though all participants had hearing acuity in the non-clinical range.


The autistic and typically developing groups were not matched on cognitive ability, although this limitation does not affect our main analyses regarding convergence of measures within autism.


Overall, based on these results, measures in different sensory modalities appear to capture distinct aspects of sensory processing in autism, with relatively limited convergence between questionnaires and laboratory-based tasks. Generally, this might reflect the reality that laboratory tasks are often carried out in controlled environments without background stimuli to compete for attention, a context which may not closely resemble the busier and more complex environments in which autistic people's atypical sensory experiences commonly occur. Sensory questionnaires and more naturalistic laboratory tasks may be better suited to explore autistic people's real-world sensory challenges. Further research is needed to replicate and investigate the drivers of the unexpected association we observed between auditory Tb ERP amplitudes and hearing acuity, which could represent an important confound for ERP researchers to consider in their studies.

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