Brain Topography

, Volume 28, Issue 6, pp 895–903 | Cite as

Somatosensory Event-Related Potentials and Association with Tactile Behavioral Responsiveness Patterns in Children with ASD

  • Carissa J. CascioEmail author
  • Chang Gu
  • Kimberly B. Schauder
  • Alexandra P. Key
  • Paul Yoder
Original Paper


The goal of this study was to explore neural response to touch in children with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Patterns of reduced (hypo-responsiveness) and enhanced (hyper-responsiveness) behavioral reaction to sensory input are prevalent in ASD, but their neural mechanisms are poorly understood. We measured event-related potentials (ERP) to a puff of air on the fingertip and collected parent report of tactile hypo- and hyper-responsiveness in children with ASD (n = 21, mean (SD) age 11.25 (3.09), 2 female), and an age-matched typically developing comparison group (n = 28, mean (SD) age 10.1 (3.08, 2 female). A global measure of ERP response strength approximately 220–270 ms post-stimulus was associated with tactile hypo-responsiveness in ASD, while tactile hyper-responsiveness was associated with earlier neural response (approximately 120–220 ms post-stimulus) in both groups. These neural responses also related to autism severity. These results suggest that, in ASD, tactile hypo- and hyper-responsiveness may reflect different waypoints in the neural processing stream of sensory input. The timing of the relationship for hyper-responsiveness is consistent with somatosensory association cortical response, while that for hypo-responsiveness is more consistent with later processes that may involve allocation of attention or emotional valence to the stimulus.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Autism Spectrum Disorder Parent Report Neural Response Autism Spectrum Disorder Group 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (K01 MH090232 awarded to C.J.C., UL1 TR000445 from NCATS/NIH, and P30 HD015052). Effort for C.J.C. is also supported by R01 MH102272. The authors wish to thank Dorita Jones of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Psychophysiology Laboratory for performing data processing, Jennifer Foss-Feig for assistance with a pilot version of the study, and Nathalie Maitre, M.D., PhD for supplying the puffer stimulator and protocol. The Cartool software ( has been programmed by Denis Brunet, from the Functional Brain Mapping Laboratory, Geneva, Switzerland, and is supported by the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM) of Geneva and Lausanne.


  1. Achenbach TM, Rescorla LA (2001) Manual for the ASEBA school age forms and profiles. University of Vermont, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander AL, Lee JE, Lazar M, Boudos R, DuBray MB, Oakes TR et al (2007) Diffusion tensor imaging of the corpus callosum in Autism. NeuroImage 34(1):61–73. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.08.032
  3. Baranek GT, Berkson G (1994) Tactile defensiveness in children with developmental disabilities: responsiveness and habituation. J Autism Dev Disord 24(4):457–471CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Cascio C, Styner M, Smith RG, Poe MD, Gerig G, Hazlett HC et al (2006) Reduced relationship to cortical white matter volume revealed by tractography-based segmentation of the corpus callosum in young children with developmental delay. Am J Psychiatry 163(12):2157–2163. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.163.12.2157
  5. Cascio C, McGlone F, Folger S, Tannan V, Baranek G, Pelphrey KA, Essick G (2008) Tactile perception in adults with autism: a multidimensional psychophysical study. J Autism Dev Disord 38:127–137PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Cascio CJ, Foss-Feig JH, Burnette CP, Heacock JL, Cosby AA (2012) The rubber hand illusion in children with autism spectrum disorders: delayed influence of combined tactile and visual input on proprioception. Autism 16:406–419PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Cascio CJ, Lorenzi J, Baranek GT (2013) Self-reported pleasantness ratings and examiner-coded defensiveness in response to touch in children with ASD: effects of stimulus material and bodily location. J Autism Dev Disord. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1961-1
  8. Coskun MA, Varghese L, Reddoch S, Castillo EM, Pearson DA, Loveland KA et l (2009) How somatic cortical maps differ in autistic and typical brains. Neuroreport 20(2):175–179. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e32831f47d1
  9. Coskun MA, Loveland KA, Pearson DA, Papanicolaou AC, Sheth BR (2013) Interaction of finger representations in the cortex of individuals with autism: a functional window into cortical inhibition. Autism Res 6(6):542–549. doi: 10.1002/aur.1314
  10. Dunn W (1999) The Sensory Profile. The Psychological Corporation, San AntonioGoogle Scholar
  11. Foss-Feig JH, Heacock J, Cascio CJ (2012) Tactile responsiveness patterns and their association with core features in autism spectrum disorders. Res Autism Spectr Disord 6:337–344PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gomot M, Wicker B (2012) A challenging, unpredictable world for people with autism spectrum disorder. Int J Psychophysiol 83(2):240–247. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.09.017
  13. Gotham K, Pickles A, Lord C (2009) Standardizing ADOS scores for a measure of severity in autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 39(5):693–705. doi: 10.1007/s10803-008-0674-3
  14. Gratton G, Coles MG, Donchin E (1983) A new method for off-line removal of ocular artifact. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol 55(4):468–484CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Green SA, Rudie JD, Colich NL, Wood JJ, Shirinyan D, Hernandez L et al (2013) Overreactive brain responses to sensory stimuli in youth with autism spectrum disorders. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 52(11):1158–1172. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.08.004
  16. Guthrie D, Buchwald JS (1991) Significance testing of difference potentials. Psychophysiology 28(2):240–244CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Hardan AY, Pabalan M, Gupta N, Bansal R, Melhem NM, Fedorov S et al (2009) Corpus callosum volume in children with autism. Psychiatry Res 174(1):57–61. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2009.03.005
  18. Hashimoto I, Yoshikawa, K, and Sasaki, M. (1990). Latencies of peripheral nerve and cerebral evoked responses to air-puff and electrical stimuli. Muscle Nerve 13(12):1099–1104. doi: 10.1002/mus.880131203
  19. Kaufman AS, Kaufman NL (2004) KBIT2: Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test-II, 2nd edn. AGS Publishing, Circle PinesGoogle Scholar
  20. Kekoni J, Hämäläinen H, McCloud V, Reinikainen K, Näätänen R (1996) Is the somatosensory N250 related to deviance discrimination or conscious target detection? Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol 100(2):115–125CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Khan S, Michmizos K, Tommerdahl M, Ganesan S, Kitzbichler MG, Zetino M et al (2015) Somatosensory cortex functional connectivity abnormalities in autism show opposite trends, depending on direction and spatial scale. Brain: A J Neurol 138(Pt 5):1394–1409. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv043
  22. Little LM, Freuler AC, Houser MB, Guckian L, Carbine K, David FJ, Baranek GT (2011) Psychometric validation of the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire. Am J Occup Ther 65:207–210PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Lord C, Rutter M, Le Couteur A (1994) Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised: a revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 24(5):659–685CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Lord C, Risi S, Lambrecht L, Cook EH, Leventhal BL, DiLavore PC et al (2000) The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: a standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. J Autism Dev Disord, 30(3):205–223Google Scholar
  25. Maitre NL, Barnett ZP, Key APF (2012) Novel assessment of cortical response to somatosensory stimuli in children with hemiparetic cerebral palsy. J Child Neurol 27(10):1276–1283. doi: 10.1177/0883073811435682
  26. Marco EJ, Khatibi K, Hill SS, Siegel B, Arroyo MS, Dowling AF et al (2012) Children with autism show reduced somatosensory response: an MEG study. Autism Res 5(5):340–351. doi: 10.1002/aur.1247
  27. Markram K, Markram H (2010) The intense world theory - a unifying theory of the neurobiology of autism. Front Human Neurosci 4:224. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2010.00224
  28. Mima T, Nagamine T, Nakamura K, Shibasaki H (1998) Attention modulates both primary and second somatosensory cortical activities in humans: a magnetoencephalographic study. J Neurophysiol 80(4):2215–2221PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Miyazaki M, Fujii E, Saijo T, Mori K, Hashimoto T, Kagami S, Kuroda Y (2007) Short-latency somatosensory evoked potentials in infantile autism: evidence of hyperactivity in the right primary somatosensory area. Dev Med Child Neurol 49(1):13–17. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2007.0059a.x
  30. Perrin F, Pernier J, Bertrand O, Echallier JF (1989) Spherical splines for scalp potential and current density mapping. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol 72(2):184–187CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Pryweller JR, Schauder KB, Anderson AW, Heacock JL, Foss-Feig JH, Newsom CR et al (2014) White matter correlates of sensory processing in autism spectrum disorders. NeuroImage. Clin 6:379–387. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2014.09.018
  32. Puts NAJ, Wodka EL, Tommerdahl M, Mostofsky SH, Edden RAE (2014) Impaired tactile processing in children with autism spectrum disorder. J Neurophysiol 111(9):1803–1811. doi: 10.1152/jn.00890.2013
  33. Rutter M, Bailey AJ, Lord C (2003) The social communication questionnaire. Western Psychological Services, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  34. Schauder KB, Muller CL, Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Cascio CJ (2015) Genetic variation in serotonin transporter modulates tactile hyperresponsiveness in ASD. Res Autism Spectr Disord 10:93–100. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.11.008
  35. Silva LMT Schalock M, Gabrielsen KR, Budden SS, Buenrostro M, Horton G (2015) Early intervention with a parent-delivered massage protocol directed at tactile abnormalities decreases severity of autism and improves child-to-parent interactions: a replication study. Autism Res Treat 2015 904585.  10.1155/2015/904585
  36. Skrandies W (1990) Global field power and topographic similarity. Brain Topogr 3(1):137–141CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Sörös P, Knecht S, Imai T, Gürtler S, Lütkenhöner B, Ringelstein EB, Henningsen H (1999) Cortical asymmetries of the human somatosensory hand representation in right- and left-handers. Neurosci Lett 271(2):89–92CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Tavassoli T, Auyeung B, Murphy LC, Baron-Cohen S, Chakrabarti B (2012) Variation in the autism candidate gene GABRB3 modulates tactile sensitivity in typically developing children. Mol. Autism, 3(1):6. doi: 10.1186/2040-2392-3-6
  39. Tommerdahl M, Tannan V, Cascio CJ, Baranek GT, Whitsel BL (2007) Vibrotactile adaptation fails to enhance spatial localization in adults with autism. Brain Res 1154:116–123PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Voos AC, Pelphrey KA, Kaiser MD (2013) Autistic traits are associated with diminished neural response to affective touch. Soc Cognitive Affect Neurosci 8(4):378–386. doi: 10.1093/scan/nss009
  41. Watson LR, Patten E, Baranek GT, Poe M Boyd BA, Freuler A, Lorenzi J (2011) Differential associations between sensory response patterns and language, social, and communication measures in children with autism or other developmental disabilities. J Speech Lang Hearing Res 54(6):1562–1576. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0029)
  42. Wechsler D (1999) WASI: Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. Harcourt Assessment Inc, SanGoogle Scholar
  43. Zopf R, Giabbiconi CM, Gruber T, Müller MM (2004) Attentional modulation of the human somatosensory evoked potential in a trial-by-trial spatial cueing and sustained spatial attention task measured with high density 128 channels EEG. Cognitive Brain Res 20(3):491–509. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2004.04.006

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryVanderbilt University School of MedicineNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological SciencesVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in PsychologyUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA
  4. 4.Department of Hearing and Speech SciencesVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  5. 5.Department of Special EducationVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  6. 6.Vanderbilt Kennedy CenterNashvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations