Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 5, pp 1528–1537 | Cite as

Self-reported Pleasantness Ratings and Examiner-Coded Defensiveness in Response to Touch in Children with ASD: Effects of Stimulus Material and Bodily Location

  • Carissa J. CascioEmail author
  • Jill Lorenzi
  • Grace T. Baranek
Perception In Autism


Tactile defensiveness, characterized by behavioral hyperresponsiveness and negative emotional responses to touch, is a common manifestation of aberrant sensory processing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD). Variations in tactile defensiveness with the properties of the stimulus and the bodily site of stimulation have been addressed in adults with self-report of perceived tactile pleasantness, but not in children. We presented three materials (pleasant, unpleasant, social) at three bodily sites and measured both examiner-coded defensiveness and self-reported pleasantness from a group of children with ASD and two comparison groups (one with DD, one with typical development (TD)). The main findings were: (1) children with ASD and DD showed significantly more defensiveness reactions and lower pleasantness ratings than the TD group, with higher variability, (2) there was a double dissociation for the effects of material and bodily site of stimulation: while bodily site predicted behavioral defensiveness, material predicted pleasantness rating. Additionally, it was noted that (3) the most pleasant material and the social touch conditions best distinguished ASD and DD from TD on defensiveness, and (4) within the ASD group, social impairment and defensiveness in bodily sites associated with social touch were positively correlated, suggesting a clinically relevant distinction between social and discriminative touch in ASD.


Touch Tactile Affective Defensiveness Pleasantness Self-report 



This study was supported in part by a Grant from NICHD (R01 HD42168) and CTSA award UL1TR000445 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. CJC’s effort is supported by NIMH (K01 MH090232). We would like to acknowledge John Bulluck for his assistance with data processing, and Jeanne Lovmo, Melissa Furlong, Heather Miller, Beth Schultz, and Amanda Lert for their assistance with recruitment and data collection.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carissa J. Cascio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jill Lorenzi
    • 2
    • 3
  • Grace T. Baranek
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Human DevelopmentVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Division of Occupational Science, Department of Allied Health SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Virginia Tech Department of PsychologyBlacksburgUSA

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