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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2014 Mar-Apr;22(2):112-24. doi: 10.1097/01.HRP.0000445143.08773.58.

Sensory symptoms in autism spectrum disorders.

Author information

From Harvard Medical School (Drs. Hazen, O'Rourke, and McDougle); Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (Drs. Hazen and McDougle), Lurie Center for Autism (Ms. Stornelli, Drs. O'Rourke and McDougle, and Ms. Koesterer), and Laboratory of Computer Science (Dr. O'Rourke), Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA; Spaulding Outpatient Center for Children, Lexington, MA (Ms. Stornelli).


The aim of this review is to summarize the recent literature regarding abnormalities in sensory functioning in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including evidence regarding the neurobiological basis of these symptoms, their clinical correlates, and their treatment. Abnormalities in responses to sensory stimuli are highly prevalent in individuals with ASD. The underlying neurobiology of these symptoms is unclear, but several theories have been proposed linking possible etiologies of sensory dysfunction with known abnormalities in brain structure and function that are associated with ASD. In addition to the distress that sensory symptoms can cause patients and caregivers, these phenomena have been correlated with several other problematic symptoms and behaviors associated with ASD, including restrictive and repetitive behavior, self-injurious behavior, anxiety, inattention, and gastrointestinal complaints. It is unclear whether these correlations are causative in nature or whether they are due to shared underlying pathophysiology. The best-known treatments for sensory symptoms in ASD involve a program of occupational therapy that is specifically tailored to the needs of the individual and that may include sensory integration therapy, a sensory diet, and environmental modifications. While some empirical evidence supports these treatments, more research is needed to evaluate their efficacy, and other means of alleviating these symptoms, including possible psychopharmacological interventions, need to be explored. Additional research into the sensory symptoms associated with ASD has the potential to shed more light on the nature and pathophysiology of these disorders and to open new avenues of effective treatments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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