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Researchers Report Promising New Sensory Test For ASD

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on May 25, 2014
sensory sensitivity


Background: The new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes sensory sensitivity as a core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those with ASD may be extra responsive to changes in temperature, loud noises, strong smells and tastes, or even bright colors. Most sensory questionnaires targeted to individuals with autism are parental reports. Few sensory questionnaires exist for self-reporting by adults with ASD.


What’s new: A new questionnaire, called the Sensory Perception Quotient (SPQ), can reliably measure sensory sensitivity in adults with and without ASD, according to a new study published in Molecular Autism. The SPQ contains statements meant to identify a person’s sensitivity to surrounding sensory inputs, such as “I would be able to detect if a strawberry was ripe by smell alone,” or “I can hear electricity humming in the walls.” The test taker then agrees or disagrees with the statement on a scale of 0 (strongly agrees) to 3 (strongly disagrees). After giving the SPQ to 196 adults with ASD and 163 control participants, the researchers verified that adults with ASD are significantly more sensitive than controls to sight, sound, touch, and taste, but not smell.


Why it’s important: Previous sensory tests for adults assessed behavioral response to the environment rather than focusing on how intensely a person senses surrounding stimuli. While additional research is needed to determine if results from the SPQ match laboratory-measured sensitivity, the SPQ is a promising new tool for identify the sensory needs of individuals in the autism community.

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