Sensory clusters of toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: differences in affective symptoms

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008 Aug;49(8):817-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01899.x. Epub 2008 May 21.


Background: Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) show variability in their sensory behaviors. In this study we identified clusters of toddlers with ASDs who shared sensory profiles and examined differences in affective symptoms across these clusters.

Method: Using cluster analysis 170 toddlers with ASDs were grouped based on parent rating of the Infant Toddler Sensory Profile (Dunn, 2002) under-responsivity, over-responsivity, and seeking scales. Affective symptoms were evaluated with the Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (Carter & Briggs-Gowan, 2005).

Results: Three clusters were identified: (1) low frequency of sensory symptoms (n = 44); (2) high frequency of symptoms (n = 49); and (3) mixed (n = 77); high frequency of under-and over-responsivity and low frequency of seeking). Relative to the low frequency cluster, parents rated toddlers in the high frequency and mixed clusters (both characterized by high frequencies of sensory under- and over-responsivity) as higher on negative emotionality, depression, and anxiety symptoms. Sensory and affective differences among clusters remained after co-varying severity of ASD symptoms.

Conclusions: Interdisciplinary assessments are recommended for toddlers with ASDs in order to identify the interplay of sensory and affective symptoms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mood Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mood Disorders / psychology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires