The Influence of Attention and Arousal on Sensory Sensitivities in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Funded by NIH/NIMH (R21- MH096582)

Over- or under-sensitivity to sights and sounds are among the most common clinical symptoms in ASD. While a variety of treatments have been implemented to address sensory difficulties, few scientific studies have examined the underlying cause of these symptoms.

To date, it is unclear whether sensory over- or under-sensitivity develops as a consequence of a deviation in the typical development of the brain areas involved in sensory processing, or alternatively, whether sensory disturbance is a by-product of a difficulty with the adaptive modulation of incoming sensory stimulation. 

For example, when we are awake and moving through our environment, we selectively attend to sounds or objects. This attention allows us to filter out distraction as well as to boost the salience of the items to which we are actively attending.

Imagine that you have problems with effectively dampening the influence of distracting stimuli. In that instance, you may become overwhelmed with sensory input. Alternatively, if sensory stimulation is filtered out too much, you may seek out stimulating environments.

The research funded by this grant will examine whether persons with autism differ from typically developing persons in the attentional regulation and processing of sensory stimuli. Further, reactions to attention catching, arousing sensory stimuli will also be measured in order to examine whether there are phasic differences in response to these stimuli.