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Classification of children with autism spectrum disorder by sensory subtype: a case for sensory-based phenotypes.

TitleClassification of children with autism spectrum disorder by sensory subtype: a case for sensory-based phenotypes.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsLane, A, Molloy, CA, Bishop, S
JournalAutism Research
Date Published2014 Jun
KeywordsAge Distribution, Child, Child Development Disorders, Pervasive, Child, Preschool, Cluster Analysis, Female, Humans, Male, Phenotype, Sensation Disorders, Severity of Illness Index, Sex Distribution

This study examines whether sensory differences can be used to classify meaningful subgroups of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Caregivers of children with ASD aged 2-10 years (nā€‰=ā€‰228) completed the Short Sensory Profile. Model-based cluster analysis was used to extract sensory subtypes. The relationship of these subtypes to age, gender, autism symptom severity, and nonverbal intelligence quotient (IQ) was further explored. Four distinct sensory subtypes were identified: (a) sensory adaptive; (b) taste smell sensitive; (c) postural inattentive; and (d) generalized sensory difference. The sensory subtypes differ from each other on two dimensions: (a) the severity of reported sensory differences; and (b) the focus of differences across auditory, taste, smell, vestibular and proprioceptive domains. Examination of the clinical features of each subtype reveals two possible mechanisms of sensory disturbance in autism: (a) sensory hyperreactivity; and (b) difficulties with multisensory processing. Further, the sensory subtypes are not well explained by other variables such as age, gender, IQ, and autism symptom severity. We conclude that classification of children using sensory differences offers a promising method by which to identify phenotypes in ASD. Sensory-based phenotypes may be useful in identifying behavioral features responsive to specific interventions thereby improving intervention effectiveness. Further validation of the sensory-based phenotypes by establishing neural and physiological correlates is recommended.


Lead Author
Alison Lane

Study Aims and Objectives
Determine the best way to group sensory differences for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and study these sensory profiles in relation to age, gender, symptom severity, and IQ.

Methods- Sample, Procedure, Study Measures, Analysis 228 participants between the ages of 2 and 10 were recruited from a Midwestern Autism Treatment Network site. Data about autism symptom severity, nonverbal IQ, and sensory profile differences were gathered from each participant.

Results- Main Findings Analysis of the sensory data gathered suggests the grouping of sensory subtypes into four categories:
1-sensory adaptive (typical function in most sensory categories; higher auditory filtering and under-responsive)
2- taste/smell sensitive (either extreme or reduced sensitivity)
3- postural inattentive (low energy/weak; concerns in auditory filtering and seeks sensation)
4- generalized sensory difference (all sensory domains affected)

There was no significant relationship between IQ, age, ASD symptom severity, and sensory subtyping. This suggests that different underlying risk factors are at play in determining the level of sensory impairment in an individual with ASD.

Conclusion- Summary Statement
Understanding sensory subgrouping and how children fit into these categories is an important step in both defining and treating ASD in this population. By classifying individuals in terms of their sensory profiles, providers may be able to determine treatment pathways that are more specific and effective. Because not all children will benefit from sensory-based interventions, understanding sensory classifications is necessary to ensure children are receiving appropriate care.

Alternate JournalAutism Res
PubMed ID24639147
Grant ListR01HD065277 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
UA3 MC 11054 / / PHS HHS / United States