Toward an interdisciplinary understanding of sensory dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder: An integration of the neural and symptom literatures

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Abstract

Sensory processing differences have long been associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and they have recently been added to the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. The focus on sensory processing in ASD research has increased substantially in the last decade. This research has been approached from two different perspectives: the first focuses on characterizing the symptoms that manifest in response to real world sensory stimulation, and the second focuses on the neural pathways and mechanisms underlying sensory processing. The purpose of this paper is to integrate the empirical literature on sensory processing in ASD from the last decade, including both studies characterizing sensory symptoms and those that investigate neural response to sensory stimuli. We begin with a discussion of definitions to clarify some of the inconsistencies in terminology that currently exist in the field. Next, the sensory symptoms literature is reviewed with a particular focus on developmental considerations and the relationship of sensory symptoms to other core features of the disorder. Then, the neuroscience literature is reviewed with a focus on methodological approaches and specific sensory modalities. Currently, these sensory symptoms and neuroscience perspectives are largely developing independently from each other leading to multiple, but separate, theories and methods, thus creating a multidisciplinary approach to sensory processing in ASD. In order to progress our understanding of sensory processing in ASD, it is now critical to integrate these two research perspectives and move toward an interdisciplinary approach. This will inevitably aid in a better understanding of the underlying biological basis of these symptoms and help realize the translational value through its application to early identification and treatment. The review ends with specific recommendations for future research to help bridge these two research perspectives in order to advance our understanding of sensory processing in ASD.

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Schauder, K. B., & Bennetto, L. (2016, June 17). Toward an interdisciplinary understanding of sensory dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder: An integration of the neural and symptom literatures. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Frontiers Research Foundation. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00268

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