Seminar: Neural correlates of sensory subtypes in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Update: Professor Lane will also be presenting at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University the day before (Thursday 27th). 11.30-12:30 in the Level 5 Boardroom, 94 Mallett Street Camperdown. For more details, contact Lisa Whittle. Tel: +61 2 9114 4104. Email:

Associate Professor Alison Lane from Newcastle University will be presenting on Neural correlates of sensory subtypes in Autism Spectrum Disorder at Macquarie University on Friday 28th February at 3pm. Earlier in the afternoon, we have two further presentations which may also be of interest. All are welcome.

Location: Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3, Room 3.610, Macquarie University. Directions

12-1pm: Dr Joana Cholin
Syllables in Speech Production: Storage versus Computation

2-3pm: Professor Wendy Best
Therapy with children with word-finding difficulties: use of a cueing aid and a comparison between interventions

3-4pm: Assoc Prof Alison Lane

Neural correlates of sensory subtypes in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Background: Clinical sensory differences (hyper-reactivity, hypo-reactivity and unusual sensory interests) are reported in many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and are now included as a sub-criterion of stereotypic and repetitive behaviors in ASD diagnostic criteria (DSM-5; APA, 2013). Recent work by Lane and colleagues (2010, 2011, in press) identifies distinct sensory subtypes in ASD. Derived from parent responses on the Short Sensory Profile (SSP: McIntosh et al, 1999), sensory subtypes are described as: 1) Sensory Adaptive, 2) Taste Smell Sensitive, 3) Postural Inattentive and 4) Generalized Sensory Difference. Based on these findings, a two-factor behavioural theory of sensory difference in ASD has been proposed (Lane et al, in press). Specifically, the theory posits that sensory difference is characterized by impairment in sensory reactivity and/or multisensory integration. Currently, clinical practice relies on proxy-report measures and clinician impression to identify sensory differences. While more precise electrophysiological measures have been used to quantify neural sensory impairment in ASD (Marco et al, 2011), there are limited reports of the correspondence between clinically-observed sensory differences and neural deviations.

Research Objective: The broad aim of the current study was to examine preliminary neural evidence to support a two-factor behavioral theory of sensory difference in ASD. In this study, we used an auditory oddball Event Related Potential (ERP) paradigm to examine variations in neural profiles in children with ASD related to clinical sensory subtype.

Method: Participants for the study were children aged 6-10 years with a diagnosis of ASD (n=19) and typically developing same-aged peers (n=30). Participants in the study completed a clinical protocol that assessed sensory differences using the SSP, autism symptoms and hearing function, and an ERP protocol assessing auditory novelty detection.

Results: Participants exhibiting sensory subtypes associated with sensory reactivity (Taste Smell Sensitive & Generalized Sensory Difference) displayed significantly faster and heightened responses to the onset of novel auditory stimuli (p=0.05) and a sustained, elevated response during later auditory processing (p=0.01). No differences in auditory ERP response were observed between participants exhibiting adaptive sensory function or multisensory integration difficulties.

Conclusion: Our study provides preliminary neural evidence validating a two-factor behavioural theory of sensory difference in ASD. ERPs in response to an auditory oddball paradigm discriminated between children displaying clinical signs of sensory reactivity from those with multisensory integration difficulties or who were sensory adaptive.