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Modality-specific associations between sensory differences and autistic traits
Linköping University, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Division of Neurobiology. Linköping University, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Linköping University, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Division of Neurobiology. Linköping University, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Linköping University, Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1904-5554
2023 (English)In: Autism, ISSN 1362-3613, E-ISSN 1461-7005, Vol. 27, no 7, p. 2158-2172Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Sensory processing differences measured by self- or parent-report co-segregate with quantitative autistic traits and have potential endophenotypic properties. It is not known to what extent this reflects generalized sensory dysfunction versus more specific associations involving individual senses or autistic trait domains. We combined Bayesian variable selection with dominance analysis to obtain a more nuanced understanding of modality-specific associations. We recruited two independent samples of adults to complete the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire and the Glasgow Sensory Questionnaire. For each domain of autistic traits (social interaction, communication, cognitive rigidity), we performed stochastic search variable selection using Glasgow Sensory Questionnaire modality subscales as predictors while controlling for uncertainty in other variables. Dominance analysis was applied to the reduced models to evaluate the relative importance of predictors. Only auditory scores reliably predicted all three autistic traits when other modalities were accounted for. The proprioceptive scale, which included motor and interoceptive deficits, predicted communicative autistic traits more than other trait domains. The tactile scale appeared most specific for social autistic traits. Although the findings must be interpreted in light of the limitations of the questionnaires, the study suggests that auditory differences may be more likely than differences in other senses to be a robust sensory endophenotype relevant to autism. Lay abstract Sensory symptoms are a major source of distress for many autistic people, causing anxiety, stress, and avoidance. Sensory problems are thought to be passed on genetically together with other autistic characteristics, such as social preferences. This means that people who report cognitive rigidity and autistic-like social function are more likely to suffer from sensory issues. We do not know what role the individual senses, such as vision, hearing, smell, or touch, play in this relationship, because sensory processing is generally measured with questionnaires that target general, multisensory issues. This study aimed to investigate the individual importance of the different senses (vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, balance, and proprioception) in the correlation with autistic traits. To ensure the results were replicable, we repeated the experiment in two large groups of adults. The first group contained 40% autistic participants, whereas the second group resembled the general population. We found that problems with auditory processing were more strongly predictive of general autistic characteristics than were problems with the other senses. Problems with touch were specifically related to differences in social interaction, such as avoiding social settings. We also found a specific relationship between proprioceptive differences and autistic-like communication preferences. The sensory questionnaire had limited reliability, so our results may underestimate the contribution of some senses. With that reservation in mind, we conclude that auditory differences are dominant over other modalities in predicting genetically based autistic traits and may therefore be of special interest for further genetic and neurobiological studies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
SAGE PUBLICATIONS LTD , 2023. Vol. 27, no 7, p. 2158-2172
Keywords [en]
broad autism phenotype; central auditory processing disorder; dimensional perspective; pragmatic language; research domain criteria
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-192491DOI: 10.1177/13623613231154349ISI: 000937767900001PubMedID: 36802917OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-192491DiVA, id: diva2:1744930
Available from: 2023-03-21 Created: 2023-03-21 Last updated: 2024-06-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Beyond Categories: A Dimensional Approach to Autism and Sensorimotor Differences
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Beyond Categories: A Dimensional Approach to Autism and Sensorimotor Differences
2024 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) encompass a range of sensory, motor, and social-communicative differences, reflecting the considerable heterogeneity within the autism spectrum. This diversity underscores the limitations of categorical diagnostic approaches, which often fail to capture the individualized manifestations of autism. Advances in genetics and neuroscience have driven a shift towards dimensional frameworks that emphasize the spectrum nature of autism and the broad autism phenotype (BAP). BAP encapsulates subclinical traits that mirror those of autism in the general population, challenging the conventional boundaries between clinical and non-clinical populations. Furthermore, sensorimotor differences, which are particularly prevalent in individuals with ASC, follow a spectrum-like pattern similar to the BAP and are predictive of developmental outcomes related to social participation, communication, and overall quality of life in people with and without ASC. However, specific descriptions of these relationships are lacking.

This dissertation investigated the complex relationships between sensorimotor differences and autistic traits (ATs). Through a series of five interconnected studies, we examined broad sensory processing patterns and specific sensory modalities, namely auditory processing and motor/proprioception, to explore their roles in autistic phenotypes.

Study 1 of the dissertation validated a Swedish translation of the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire (BAPQ). By examining parents' BAP traits, the study highlighted significant associations between higher ATs and having a child with ASC. Furthermore, it confirmed the presence of all three AT domains—social interaction (ATSOC), communication (ATCOM), and cognitive rigidity (ATRIG), reinforcing the genetic and phenotypic continuity between clinical and subclinical ATs.

Study 2 and Study 3 served as broader investigations into all seven sensory modalities and their associations with ATs. Study 2 explored these modality-specific associations, using Bayesian stochastic search variable selection (SSVS) and dominance analysis. This study highlighted auditory processing difficulties as the most consistent predictor of all three AT domains. Additionally, proprioceptive and tactile processing difficulties were specifically associated with ATCOM and ATSOC, respectively.

Study 3 extended this analysis to a developing population, focusing on the relationship between sensorimotor processing, ATs, and anxiety in children aged 6-11 years. Identical to Study 2, we found tactile symptoms as a predictor of ATSOC, proprioceptive symptoms for ATCOM, and auditory symptoms for ATRIG. In addition, olfactory symptoms were selected as a predictor of ATCOM, and motor coordination was a consistent predictor of all AT domains. Using SSVS, this study also identified that auditory and olfactory processing difficulties were strong predictors of anxiety symptoms.

Building on the previous studies, Study 4 narrowed the focus to auditory processing differences, investigating specific auditory problems and their associations with the AT domains. All AT domains significantly predicted affective reactions to sounds, while difficulties with speech perception, spatial perception, and auditory stream segregation were most strongly predicted by ATCOM.

Study 5 focused on the previously found links between motor coordination and proprioceptive processing and ATCOM. Using causal mediation analysis within a counterfactual framework, this study found that cerebellar error correction deficits, measured through a finger tapping task, significantly impacted ATCOM through motor skills in childhood.

Together, this dissertation provides a comprehensive overview of the sensory processing dimensions related to the core AT domains. Specifically, the studies underscored the clinical significance of monitoring auditory and olfactory complaints in children, as these were predictive of anxiety, and emphasized that early motor deficits impact social communication development. The findings advocate for the inclusion of detailed sensory and motor assessments in neurodevelopmental evaluations to identify children at risk for poor mental health outcomes. Future research should continue to explore the mechanisms underlying sensory processing differences. Particular focus should be placed on auditory and motor/proprioceptive functions and their contributions to ATs and clinical outcomes, such as anxiety. Emphasis should also be given to longitudinal studies that track these relationships over time.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2024. p. 94
Series
Linköping University Medical Dissertations, ISSN 0345-0082 ; 1902
Keywords
Broad autistic phenotype, Sensory processing, Central auditory, Processing disorder, Childhood motor skills, Social pragmatic language
National Category
Neurosciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-205601 (URN)10.3384/9789180755467 (DOI)9789180755450 (ISBN)9789180755467 (ISBN)
Public defence
2024-08-30, Berzeliussalen, Building 463, Campus US, Linköping, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-06-27 Created: 2024-06-27 Last updated: 2024-06-28Bibliographically approved

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Bang, PeterIgelström, Kajsa

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