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Eur J Neurosci. 2018 Mar;47(6):602-609. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13601. Epub 2017 May 25.

Variable sensory perception in autism.

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Clinical Neurophysiology Research Laboratory, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3501 Forbes Avenue, Suite 420, Pittsburgh, PA, 15213, USA.


Autism is associated with sensory and cognitive abnormalities. Individuals with autism generally show normal or superior early sensory processing abilities compared to healthy controls, but deficits in complex sensory processing. In the current opinion paper, it will be argued that sensory abnormalities impact cognition by limiting the amount of signal that can be used to interpret and interact with environment. There is a growing body of literature showing that individuals with autism exhibit greater trial-to-trial variability in behavioural and cortical sensory responses. If multiple sensory signals that are highly variable are added together to process more complex sensory stimuli, then this might destabilise later perception and impair cognition. Methods to improve sensory processing have shown improvements in more general cognition. Studies that specifically investigate differences in sensory trial-to-trial variability in autism, and the potential changes in variability before and after treatment, could ascertain if trial-to-trial variability is a good mechanism to target for treatment in autism.


autism; noise; sensory processing; trial-to-trial variability


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