Sensory Abnormality and Quantitative Autism Traits in Children With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder in an Epidemiological Population
The authors measured the prevalence of sensory abnormalities (SAs), a recognized feature in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in an attempt to study the potential association between SAs and quantitative autism traits (QAT).
Although sensory perception differences exist between some individuals with autism and neurotypical individuals, there is a lack of widespread, quantitative analysis of these perception differences. These differences in sensory perception are not entirely understood, but most experts acknowledge that it’s a core feature of ASD. Here, the authors compare these differences at a population level to test the rigor of past research claims that were not as conclusive and applicable to the entire population due to small, unrepresentative sample sizes. To accomplish this, SAs were compared in an epidemiological child population, a sample that adequately represents the child population at large, that included both individuals with and without ASD.
A large, epidemiological representative sample size is a key merit of this publication. Although it is unlikely that sensory abnormalities and the potential biological indicators of ASD differ between Finland and the United States, it is potentially inferable that the “epidemiological population” may not wholly represent that of other countries, thus reducing the reliability of the results. There are different standards of detection and treatment of autism between the US and Europe which may affect this study’s validity across countries. Additionally, the presence of SAs was indicated by survey as opposed to direct medical examination due to the labor-intensive manner of data collection for SAs.
The authors note that tactile and auditory hypersensitivity predicted an ASD diagnosis. They conclude that QAT and SAs are associated in all samples. Forms of SA were associated with ~13x increased risk for ASD, depending on the specific SA. More information about these specifics can be found in the article, Table 1. Applications of this study can be linked to primary care fields - from pediatric physicians to comprehensive school health examinations (such as those for scoliosis and hearing). By taking additional effort to screen children for SAs, earlier diagnosis may be accomplished, which will improve accessibility to approved therapies and other forms of assistance.
It is clear from the existing limitations that clinical data collection regarding SAs must be done in concert with an extensive analysis of the comparison between SAs and ASD. This should not take away from the significance of the current findings, as these will enable future funding and personnel to tackle the challenge of providing more compelling evidence.