Atypical Reactions to Stimuli Found in Mothers of Children With Autism

Close to 90% of individuals in the Autism Spectrum have atypical responses and obsessions/ fixations with sensory stimuli. For example, some may enjoy looking at bright lights while some may actively avoid the sound of people scratching their skin. Previous studies have observed these patterns of responses  in neurotypical siblings of individuals with Autism, but not in their parents- until recently.

In a research published in Molecular Autism on 3 April 2014, Uljarevic et al. set out to investigate whether parents (specifically, the mothers) of children and adolescents in the Autism Spectrum have unusual reactions to sensory stimuli. The researchers asked fifty mothers to complete the Adolescent and Adult Sensory Profile (AASP) which is a measure of people’s hypo-sensitivity, hyper-sensitivity, sensation-seeking and sensory-avoiding tendencies.

The study’s findings are as follows:

  1. 31 out of 50 participants (62%) recognize stimuli slower or weaker than the average population
  2. 22 (44%) were found to be hyper-sensitive but were able to tolerate unpleasant stimuli
  3. 24 (48%) actively avoid unbearable stimuli
  4. Only 2% of the mothers scored within the ‘average-range‘, i.e. showed ‘normal’ responses to stimuli

Treat these findings with caution

As with every scientific finding, it is important not to get carried away with these findings. They need to be interpreted with caution. Despite having similar patterns of responses to their children with Autism, the participants’ atypical sensory reactions could be due to anxiety. In addition, since this is the first study to investigate the subject in this population with such a small sample size (very few participants), more studies need to be conducted to fully support the findings. Lastly, genetic studies are needed to investigate whether or not genes play a role in atypical sensory reactions in Autism.

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