The Role of Attention in Somatosensory Processing: A Multi-trait, Multi-method Analysis

J Autism Dev Disord. 2016 Oct;46(10):3232-41. doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-2866-6.


Sensory processing abnormalities in autism have largely been described by parent report. This study used a multi-method (parent-report and measurement), multi-trait (tactile sensitivity and attention) design to evaluate somatosensory processing in ASD. Results showed multiple significant within-method (e.g., parent report of different traits)/cross-trait (e.g., attention and tactile sensitivity) correlations, suggesting that parent-reported tactile sensory dysfunction and performance-based tactile sensitivity describe different behavioral phenomena. Additionally, both parent-reported tactile functioning and performance-based tactile sensitivity measures were significantly associated with measures of attention. Findings suggest that sensory (tactile) processing abnormalities in ASD are multifaceted, and may partially reflect a more global deficit in behavioral regulation (including attention). Challenges of relying solely on parent-report to describe sensory difficulties faced by children/families with ASD are also highlighted.

Keywords: Attention; Autism; Sensory processing; Somatosensory; Vibrotactile.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Touch / physiology*