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Research by Topic: Sensory Issues
As a babys brain develops, there is an explosion of synapses, the connections that allow neurons to send and receive signals. But during childhood and adolescence, the brain needs to start pruning those synapses, limiting their number so different brain areas can develop specific functions and are not overloaded with stimuli.Now a new study suggests that in children with autism, something in the process goes awry, leaving an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brain.
Mice modeling autism have trouble integrating different kinds of sensory information such as sight, sound and touch. A study published in Neuron reports that an imbalance between signals that calm neurons and those that excite them leads to these sensory problems.
A small study published 3 April in Molecular Autism found that 98 percent of mothers of children with autism have unusual responses to sensory stimuli, including light, sound and touch. Up to 90 percent of children with autism show sensory problems, fixating on or avoiding certain smells, sounds or textures. As a result, the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists abnormal sensitivity in one or more of the five senses as a core diagnostic feature of autism. Its unclear whether genetics contributes to these sensory patterns, but a larger study examining the relationship between unusual sensory response, autism traits and additional disorders in family members may clarify the link.
New research out of the University of Cambridge and published in the journal Molecular Autism found that people with autism are more likely to have synaethesia, which involves experiencing a mixing of the senses, such as seeing colors when they hear sounds. Both autism and synaesthesia involve neural over-connectivity, perhaps the reason why synaesthesia is disproportionately common in autism.
Researchers at University of California Irvine conducted a randomized controlled trial of sensorimotor enrichment in young boys with ASD. Behavioral and cognitive improvements in the children who received sensorimotor therapy suggest that it may be a promising treatment for ASD symptoms. The group is now conducting a larger trial that includes girls.
Anxiety, sensory over-responsivity, and gastrointestinal problems in children with autism spectrum disordersPublished January 1, 2013 in PubMed
Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) experience high rates of anxiety, sensory processing problems, and gastrointestinal (GI) problems; however, the associations among these symptoms in children with ASD have not been previously examined. The current study examined bivariate and multivariate relations among anxiety, sensory over-responsivity, and chronic GI problems in a sample of 2,973 children with ASD enrolled in the Autism Treatment Network (ages 2-17 years, 81.6 % male).
The prevalence of physical aggression was 53% across a sample of nearly 1600 children and adolescents with ASD. Girls and boys were equally likely to display aggressive behaviors. The researchers suggest sleep problems, self-injury and sensory problems may increase risk for physical aggression, and argue for better identification and treatment of these conditions.