Date of Completion

Spring 5-6-2014

Thesis Advisor(s)

Deborah Fein, Kathryn Bradbury, Emily Moulton

Honors Major

Cognitive Science


Mental Disorders | Other Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes


Sensory sensitivities are widely reported among individuals with ASD. These sensory sensitivities can be classified as over-responsivity, under-responsivity, or seeking of sensory stimulation. Following recent changes in the diagnostic criteria, sensory sensitivities are considered a key feature of the behavioral phenotype of ASDs. Despite their significance, sensory sensitivities have been largely underestimated. Therefore, more research in this area may reveal important information about the influence of sensitivities on functioning, as well as the underlying causes of the symptoms. This study investigated a possible relationship between sensory sensitivities and cognitive and adaptive abilities in children with ASD. The sample included 29 children approximately 23 months old who had been diagnosed with an ASD according to the DSM-IV-TR criteria. Presence of sensory sensitivities was determined using parent report on the Toddler ASD Symptom Interview (TASI). The Mullen Scales of Early Learning (Mullen) and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Second Edition (Vineland II) were used to measure cognitive and adaptive abilities. The results indicate that there are no differences in cognitive and adaptive abilities between children with ASD who display sensory sensitivities and those who do not display sensory sensitivities. Although not significant, there was a pattern such that children with ASD and sensory sensitivities performed slightly better on measures of cognitive and adaptive ability compared to children with ASD without sensory sensitivities. Given the high variability in manifestation of these sensory sensitivities both within individuals and across the ASD population, it seems plausible that the dichotomous grouping used in this study may have limited the opportunity to find effects.