Omega-3 and -6 fatty acid supplementation and sensory processing in toddlers with ASD symptomology born preterm: A randomized controlled trial

Early Hum Dev. 2017 Dec;115:64-70. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2017.09.015. Epub 2017 Sep 20.


Background: Despite advances in the health and long-term survival of infants born preterm, they continue to face developmental challenges including higher risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and atypical sensory processing patterns.

Aims: This secondary analysis aimed to describe sensory profiles and explore effects of combined dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) supplementation on parent-reported sensory processing in toddlers born preterm who were exhibiting ASD symptoms.

Study design: 90-day randomized, double blinded, placebo-controlled trial.

Subjects: 31 children aged 18-38months who were born at ≤29weeks' gestation.

Outcome measure: Mixed effects regression analyses followed intent to treat and explored effects on parent-reported sensory processing measured by the Infant/Toddler Sensory Profile (ITSP).

Results: Baseline ITSP scores reflected atypical sensory processing, with the majority of atypical scores falling below the mean. Sensory processing sections: auditory (above=0%, below=65%), vestibular (above=13%, below=48%), tactile (above=3%, below=35%), oral sensory (above=10%; below=26%), visual (above=10%, below=16%); sensory processing quadrants: low registration (above=3%; below=71%), sensation avoiding (above=3%; below=39%), sensory sensitivity (above=3%; below=35%), and sensation seeking (above=10%; below=19%). Twenty-eight of 31 children randomized had complete outcome data. Although not statistically significant (p=0.13), the magnitude of the effect for reduction in behaviors associated with sensory sensitivity was medium to large (effect size=0.57). No other scales reflected a similar magnitude of effect size (range: 0.10 to 0.32).

Conclusions: The findings provide support for larger randomized trials of omega fatty acid supplementation for children at risk of sensory processing difficulties, especially those born preterm.

Trial registration: NCT01683565.

Keywords: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA); Randomized controlled trial; Sensory processing; Sensory sensitivity, preterm birth.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sensation*
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / administration & dosage
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / therapeutic use*


  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid

Associated data