Autism News: Reduced Sensory Habituation May Precede Emergence of Autistic Behaviors

Autism News Update:

Differences in Auditory Stimuli Habituation Studied Comparing Infants at Low Risk for Developing Autism and Infants at High Risk for Developing Autism

Research Compares Habituation to Auditory Stimuli in Infants at High Risk for Developing Autism and Infants at Low Risk for Developing Autism

Some have hypothesized that poor habituation to different stimuli may result in some of the sensory behaviors associated with autism.  Researchers recently investigated this hypothesis using auditory stimuli and measuring the rate of habituation to the different sounds presented.  The findings were published in an article titled Differential Habituation to Repeated Sounds in Infants at High Risk for Autism.

The study group was made up of 9-month-old infants who had an older brother or sister with autism (i.e. higher risk for developing autism).  The control group consisted of similarly aged infants deemed to be at low risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder.  Children in both the control group and the study group were exposed to a series of sound stimuli and habituation to those sounds was measured.  Researchers also measured responses to new or deviant sounds presented to the children.

The researchers found that infants at low risk for developing autism showed better habituation to the sounds presented to them.  In other words, they showed less and less response to the repeating auditory stimuli over time.  At the same time, the infants at low risk for developing autism showed a greater response to new or deviant sounds compared to the infants at high risk for autism.

The infants at high risk for developing autism showed less habituation and a lesser response to new sounds such as changes in frequency.

The authors suggest the findings may indicate that reduced habituation to sensory input may present sooner than autistic behaviors emerge in some individuals.  They claim this could lead to over responding to some stimuli while under responding to other stimuli in autism.

The findings were published in Neuroreport on September 19, 2011.

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