Sensory reactivity, empathizing and systemizing in autism spectrum conditions and sensory processing disorder
Although the DSM-5 added sensory symptoms as a criterion for ASC, there is a group of children who display sensory symptoms but do not have ASC; children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). To be able to differentiate these two disorders, our aim was to evaluate whether children with ASC show more sensory symptomatology and/or different cognitive styles in empathy and systemizing compared to children with SPD and typically developing (TD) children. The study included 210 participants: 68 children with ASC, 79 with SPD and 63 TD children. The Sensory Processing Scale Inventory was used to measure sensory symptoms, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) to measure autistic traits, and the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ) to measure cognitive styles. Across groups, a greater sensory symptomatology was associated with lower empathy. Further, both the ASC and SPD groups showed more sensory symptoms than TD children. Children with ASC and SPD only differed on sensory under-reactivity. The ASD group did, however, show lower empathy and higher systemizing scores than the SPD group. Together, this suggest that sensory symptoms alone may not be adequate to differentiate children with ASC and SPD but that cognitive style measures could be used for differential diagnosis.
Keywords: Autism spectrum conditions; Empathy; Sensory processing disorder; Sensory symptoms; Systemizing.