Tactile sensitivity of normal and autistic children

Guclu B., Tanidir C., Mukaddes N. M. , Unal F.

SOMATOSENSORY AND MOTOR RESEARCH, vol.24, pp.21-33, 2007 (Journal Indexed in SCI) identifier identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 24
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Doi Number: 10.1080/08990220601179418
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded, Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.21-33


Many children with autistic spectrum disorders have unusual reactions to certain sensory stimuli. These reactions vary along a hyper- to hypo-responsivity continuum. For example, some children overreact to weak sensory input, but others do not respond negatively to even strong stimuli. It is typically assumed that this deviant responsivity is linked to sensitivity, although the particular stage of sensory processing affected is not known. Psychophysical vibrotactile thresholds of six male children (age: 8-12) who were diagnosed to have autistic spectrum disorders and six normal male children ( age: 7-11) were measured by using a two-alternative forced-choice task. The tactile stimuli were sinusoidal displacements and they were applied on the terminal phalanx of the left middle finger of each subject. By using a forward-masking paradigm, 40-and 250-Hz thresholds of the Pacinian tactile channel and 40-Hz threshold of the Non-Pacinian I tactile channel were determined. There was no significant difference between the thresholds of autistic and normal children, and the autistic children had the same detection and masking mechanisms as the normal children. The sensory responsivity of each subject was tested by clinical questionnaires, which showed again no difference between the two subject groups. Furthermore, no significant correlations could be found between the questionnaire data and the psychophysical thresholds. However, there was a high correlation between the data from the tactile and emotional subsets of the questionnaires. These results support the hypothesis that the hyper-and hypo-responsivity to touch, which is sometimes observed in autistic spectrum disorders, is not a perceptual sensory problem, but may probably be emotional in origin.