A study published in Autism investigated sensory over-responsivity in adults with ASC compared to control participants and the extent to which daily life experiences were endorsed as uncomfortable or distressing by those with ASC. The researcher’s hypothesized that adults with ASC would report more sensory over-responsivity than controls. A second objective was to test whether sensory over-responsivity is linked to autistic traits in adults with and without ASC.
Adults with (n = 221) and without (n = 181) autism spectrum conditions participated in an online survey. The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), the Raven Progressive Matrices and the Sensory Processing Scale were used to characterize the sample. Adults with autism spectrum conditions reported more sensory over-responsivity than control participants across various sensory domains (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory and proprioceptive). Notable in this study was the association between sensory over-responsivity and autistic traits. Increased sensory sensitivity was associated with more self-reported autistic traits, both across and within groups. These results indicate that adults with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) experience sensory over-responsivity to daily sensory stimuli to a high degree and that a positive relationship exists between sensory over-responsivity and autistic traits.
Despite its limitations, this study shows that adults with ASC self-report over-responsivity across multiple sensory domains that affect their daily life routines and thus quality of life. Evaluating and attending to over-responsivity in adults with ASC have implications for understanding and addressing the sensory components of their daily life routines and roles. Appropriate intervention should be directed towards sensory issues that may be contributing to emotional and psychological challenges and towards designing sensory friendly domestic and work environments.
Tavassoli T., Miller, L. J., Schoen, S. A., Nielsen, D. M., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). Sensory over-responsivity in adults with autism spectrum conditions. Autism, 18, 428–432.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He is also editor of a new volume in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools.