Thursday, 21 July 2016

Sensory processing issues are present throughout the autism spectrum

I want to make an initial point about the paper by Corentin Gonthier and colleagues [1] and their research findings titled: 'Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction', I'm not a great fan of the use of the term 'functioning' when it comes to autism.

Yes, I know what message it's trying to convey in terms of 'severity' of autism and/or accompanying learning (intellectual) disability and/or the level of day-to-day adaptive skills a person possesses with the aim of providing some indication of how 'able' or 'disabled' they are. My issue, and indeed I'm not the only one with a bee in their bonnet about this, are that the terms 'low functioning' and 'high functioning' rarely provide an accurate portrayal of the cumulative aspects of a person. One example of this can be seen in the quite depressing statistics when it comes to employment and autism, and how even those 'high-functioning' people on the spectrum, sometimes with above average intellect, are much less likely to be employed than their peers. High-functioning does not always mean 'can-function' in real life (even those with seemingly impressive skills) and importantly, tends to take little account of how comorbid issues such as anxiety can be so utterly disabling for a person.

I digress. The Gonthier study set about asking an important question about an important group: do the various sensory processing issues quite commonly reported in those on the more able side of the autism spectrum also extend to those peoples with more profound difficulties? Based on data "collected for a representative sample of inpatients in autism care centers (N = 148) and a non-clinical control group" researchers concluded that yes, sensory dysfunction is "highly prevalent in low-functioning adults with ASD [autism spectrum disorder]" but no, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' profile for this population. Indeed, that lack of a universal profile in the cohort studied pretty much mirrors what has been noted in  the 'more able' autism phenotype.

One other detail mentioned in the Gonthier findings also caught my eye in that sensory dysfunction "predicts specific patterns of behavioral disorders" at least in this cohort. This is an intriguing suggestion that potentially amongst the myriad of issues falling under the heading of 'challenging behaviours' for example, there may be a role for sensory processing issues too. It does kinda make sense that sensory issues could invoke some of those so-called challenging behaviours allied to other research looking, for example, at how pain might manifest among some of those on the autism spectrum (see here). It also makes for an even stronger case that screening for the presence of ophthalmic issues as one potential source/complication of those sensory issues should be more widely indicated irrespective of where someone lies on the autism spectrum (see here) (and whatever description you use of their place on the spectrum).

But a lot more research is required on the topic of sensory processing issues, and indeed, covering the entire autism spectrum in line with other writings [2] ...

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[1] Gonthier C. et al. Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction. J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Jun 30.

[2] Tager-Flusberg H. et al. Conducting research with minimally verbal participants with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2016 Jun 26. pii: 1362361316654605.

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ResearchBlogging.org Gonthier C, Longuépée L, & Bouvard M (2016). Sensory Processing in Low-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Distinct Sensory Profiles and Their Relationships with Behavioral Dysfunction. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 27364513