Although sensory processing challenges have been noted since the first clinical descriptions of autism, it has taken until the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013 for sensory problems to be included as part of the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the diagnostic profile. Because sensory information forms the building blocks for higher-order social and cognitive functions, we argue that sensory processing is not only an additional piece of the puzzle, but rather a critical cornerstone for characterizing and understanding ASD. In this review we discuss what is currently known about sensory processing in ASD, how sensory function fits within contemporary models of ASD, and what is understood about the differences in the underlying neural processing of sensory and social communication observed between individuals with and without ASD. In addition to highlighting the sensory features associated with ASD, we also emphasize the importance of multisensory processing in building perceptual and cognitive representations, and how deficits in multisensory integration may also be a core characteristic of ASD.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder; Neuroimaging; Psychophysics; Sensory processing deficits; Sensory representations.
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