Sensory-based subtypes among autistic children have been well documented, but little is known about longitudinal sensory subtypes beyond autistic populations. This prospective study aimed to identify subtypes based on trajectories of parent-reported sensory features measured at 6-19 months, 3-4, and 6-7 years of age among a community-based birth cohort (N = 1,517), and to examine their associations with school-age clinical and adaptive/maladaptive outcomes on a subset sample (N = 389). Latent class growth analysis revealed five trajectory subtypes varying in intensity and change rates across three sensory domains. In contrast to an Adaptive-All Improving subtype (35%) with very low sensory features and overall better school-age outcomes, an Elevated-All Worsening subtype (3%), comprised of more boys and children of parents with less education, was associated with most elevated autistic traits and poorest adaptive/maladaptive outcomes. Three other subtypes (62% in total) were generally characterized by stable or improving patterns of sensory features at mild to moderate levels, and challenges in certain outcome domains. Our findings indicate that characterizing children based on early sensory trajectories may contribute to earlier detection of subgroups of children with sensory challenges who are more likely to experience developmental challenges by school age, followed by early targeted interventions for improved long-term outcomes.
Keywords: autism; community sample; latent-class trajectory; school-age outcomes; sensory features.