Social and non-social sensory responsivity in toddlers at high-risk for autism spectrum disorder

IBIS Network, Jaclyn Gunderson, Emma Worthley, Rebecca Grzadzinski, Catherine Burrows, Annette Estes, Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, Kelly Botteron, Stephen Dager, Heather Hazlett, Robert Schultz, Joseph Piven, Jason Wolff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Empirical evidence concerning sensory responsivity in young children who later develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains relatively limited. It is unclear whether specific patterns or aspects of sensory responsivity underlay the emergence of the disorder. The goals of this study were to (a) examine whether social versus non-social context impacted the expression of sensory responsivity in infants at high risk for ASD, and (b) examine if sensory responsivity in social or non-social contexts was associated with severity of ASD symptoms. The Sensory Experiences Questionnaire 2.1 was collected for 338 infants (131 females, 207 males) at high-risk for ASD at 12 and/or 24 months of age. High-risk toddlers meeting diagnostic criteria for ASD (n = 75) showed elevated sensory responsivity in both social and non-social contexts at 12 months of age and differences widened over the second year of life. Individuals with ASD demonstrate higher responsivity in both contexts suggestive of generalized atypical sensory responsivity in ASD. Lay Summary: Behaviors such as avoiding or noticing sensory input (e.g., sounds, touches) are often different in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than those without. The reason for this is widely unknown. The findings from this study show that in toddlers, sensory responsivity increased in both social and non-social situations. Therefore, the setting of sensory input does not explain these differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2143-2155
Number of pages13
JournalAutism Research
Issue number10
Early online dateJun 19 2021
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health under awards R01MH116961, P30HD03110, R01HD05574, and T32HD040127; Autism Speaks, and the Simons Foundation. We thank Jeffrey K. Bye, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, for assistance with computing and statistical analyses. We wish to express our gratitude to IBIS families for continued participation in this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Society for Autism Research and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • context
  • environment
  • sensory functioning
  • sensory responsivity
  • social


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