A longitudinal exploratory study of changes in sensory processing in children with ASD from the ELENA cohort


Atypical sensory processing (SP) is a diagnostic criterion of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, little is known about its course during development. In this exploratory longitudinal study, we aimed to investigate the course of SP among children with ASD and identify clinical variables associated with changes. We used a subsample of 51 children with confirmed ASD, aged from 3 to 10 years, recruited from the ELENA cohort. SP was assessed using the Sensory Profile questionnaire at baseline and three years later. Our preliminary results highlight the heterogeneity of the evolution of SP during the children’s development and the existence of three subgroups based on the course of SP (improvement, stable, and worsening). In addition, the children’s adaptive skills and maladaptive behaviors were related to the course of SP. These results could be confirmed in future studies with a larger sample size using a longitudinal approach to capture individual variability in SP. In addition, our results highlight the importance of accounting for temporal changes in the sensory needs of individuals with ASD in clinical practice.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Adams JN, Feldman HM, Huffman LC, Loe IM (2015) Sensory processing in preterm preschoolers and its association with executive function. Early Human Dev 91(3):227–233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2015.01.013

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Cheung PPP, Siu AMH (2009) A comparison of patterns of sensory processing in children with and without developmental disabilities. Res Dev Disabil 30(6):1468–1480. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2009.07.009

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Davies PL, Chang W-P, Gavin WJ (2009) Maturation of sensory gating performance in children with and without sensory processing disorders. Int J Psychophysiol 72(2):187–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.12.007

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Dunn W (1999) The sensory profile: user’s manual. Psychological Corporation, San Antonio

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    McCormick C, Hepburn S, Young GS, Rogers SJ (2016) Sensory symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder, other developmental disorders and typical development: a longitudinal study. Autism 20(5):572–579. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361315599755

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Miller LJ, Lane SJ, Cermak SA, Osten ET (2007) Concept evolution in sensory integration: a proposed nosology for diagnosis. Am J Occup Therapy: Off Publ Am Occup Therapy Assoc 61(2):135–140

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Ghanizadeh A (2011) Sensory processing problems in children with ADHD, a systematic review. Psychiatry Investigation 8(2):89–94. https://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2011.8.2.89

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Hannant P, Cassidy S, Van de Weyer R, Mooncey S (2018) Sensory and motor differences in Autism Spectrum Conditions and developmental coordination disorder in children: a cross-syndrome study. Hum Mov Sci 58:108–118. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.humov.2018.01.010

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Bruni M, Cameron D, Dua S, Noy S (2010) Reported sensory processing of children with Down syndrome. Phys Occup Therapy Pediatrics 30(4):280–293. https://doi.org/10.3109/01942638.2010.486962

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Mieses AM, Tavassoli T, Li E, Soorya L, Lurie S, Wang AT et al (2016) Brief report: sensory reactivity in children with Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. J Autism Dev Disord 46(7):2508–2513. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2754-0

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Ausderau K, Sideris J, Furlong M, Little LM, Bulluck J, Baranek GT (2014) National survey of sensory features in children with ASD: factor structure of the Sensory Experience Questionnaire (3.0). J Autism Dev Disord 44(4):915–925. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1945-1

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Crane L, Goddard L, Pring L (2009) Sensory processing in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Int J Res Practice 13(3):215–228. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361309103794

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Ben-Sasson A, Gal E, Fluss R, Katz-Zetler N, Cermak SA (2019) Update of a meta-analysis of sensory symptoms in ASD: a new decade of research. J Autism Dev Disord 49(12):4974–4996. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-04180-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edn. American Psychiatric Publishing, Arlington

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Lin L-Y, Huang P-C (2019) Quality of life and its related factors for adults with autism spectrum disorder. Disabil Rehabil 41(8):896–903. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2017.1414887

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    McConachie H, Wilson C, Mason D, Garland D, Parr JR, Rattazzi A et al (2020) What is important in measuring quality of life? Reflections by autistic adults in four countries. Autism Adulthood. https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2019.0008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Bonnel A, Mottron L, Peretz I, Trudel M, Gallun E, Bonnel A-M (2003) Enhanced pitch sensitivity in individuals with autism: a signal detection analysis. J Cogn Neurosci 15(2):226–235. https://doi.org/10.1162/089892903321208169

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Mottron L, Dawson M, Soulières I, Hubert B, Burack J (2006) Enhanced perceptual functioning in autism: an update, and eight principles of autistic perception. J Autism Dev Disord 36(1):27–43. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-005-0040-7

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Samson F, Mottron L, Soulières I, Zeffiro TA (2012) Enhanced visual functioning in autism: an ALE meta-analysis. Hum Brain Mapp 33(7):1553–1581. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.21307

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Germani T, Zwaigenbaum L, Bryson S, Brian J, Smith I, Roberts W et al (2014) Brief report: assessment of early sensory processing in infants at high-risk of autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 44(12):3264–3270. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2175-x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Van Etten HM, Kaur M, Srinivasan SM, Cohen SJ, Bhat A, Dobkins KR (2017) Increased prevalence of unusual sensory behaviors in infants at risk for, and teens with, autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 47(11):3431–3445. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-017-3227-9

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Wolff JJ, Dimian AF, Botteron KN, Dager SR, Elison JT, Estes AM et al (2019) A longitudinal study of parent-reported sensory responsiveness in toddlers at-risk for autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 60(3):314–324. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12978

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Billstedt E, Gillberg IC, Gillberg C (2007) Autism in adults: symptom patterns and early childhood predictors. Use of the DISCO in a community sample followed from childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 48(11):1102–1110. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01774.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Perez Repetto L, Jasmin E, Fombonne E, Gisel E, Couture M (2017) Longitudinal study of sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Res Treatment. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/1934701

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Baranek GT, Carlson M, Sideris J, Kirby AV, Watson LR, Williams KL, Bulluck J (2019) Longitudinal assessment of stability of sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities. Autism Res: Off J Int Soc Autism Res 12(1):100–111. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Dwyer P, Saron CD, Rivera SM (2020) Identification of longitudinal sensory subtypes in typical development and autism spectrum development using growth mixture modelling. Res Autism Spectrum Disord 78:101645. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2020.101645

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Dellapiazza F, Michelon C, Oreve M-J, Robel L, Schoenberger M, Chatel C et al (2019) The impact of atypical sensory processing on adaptive functioning and maladaptive behaviors in autism spectrum disorder during childhood: results from the ELENA cohort. J Autism Dev Disord. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-03970-w

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    O’Donnell S, Deitz J, Kartin D, Nalty T, Dawson G (2012) Sensory processing, problem behavior, adaptive behavior, and cognition in preschool children with autism spectrum disorders. Am J Occup Ther 66(5):586–594. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2012.004168

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Ausderau K, Sideris J, Little LM, Furlong M, Bulluck JC, Baranek GT (2016) Sensory subtypes and associated outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res 9(12):1316–1327. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1626

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Lane AE, Molloy CA, Bishop SL (2014) Classification of children with autism spectrum disorder by sensory subtype: a case for sensory-based phenotypes. Autism Res 7(3):322–333. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1368

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Leekam SR, Nieto C, Libby SJ, Wing L, Gould J (2007) Describing the sensory abnormalities of children and adults with autism. J Autism Dev Disord 37(5):894–910. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-006-0218-7

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Baker AEZ, Lane A, Angley MT, Young RL (2008) The relationship between sensory processing patterns and behavioural responsiveness in autistic disorder: a pilot study. J Autism Dev Disord 38(5):867–875. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-007-0459-0

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Ben-Sasson A, Hen L, Fluss R, Cermak SA, Engel-Yeger B, Gal E (2009) A meta-analysis of sensory modulation symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 39(1):1–11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-008-0593-3

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Lane AE, Young RL, Baker AEZ, Angley MT (2010) Sensory processing subtypes in autism: association with adaptive behavior. J Autism Dev Disord 40(1):112–122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0840-2

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Uljarević M, Baranek G, Vivanti G, Hedley D, Hudry K, Lane A (2017) Heterogeneity of sensory features in autism spectrum disorder: challenges and perspectives for future research. Autism Res 10(5):703–710. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.1747

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Baghdadli A, Miot S, Rattaz C, Akbaraly T, Geoffray M-M, Michelon C et al (2019) Investigating the natural history and prognostic factors of ASD in children: the multicEntric Longitudinal study of childrEN with ASD—the ELENA study protocol. BMJ Open 9(6):e026286. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026286

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Lord C, Rutter M, Di Lavore P, Risi S, Gotham K, Bishop S (2012) Autism diagnostic observation schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) Manual (Part I): Modules 1–4. Western Psychological Services, Torrance

    Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Le Couteur A, Lord C, Rutter M (2003) Autism diagnostic interview, revised (ADI-R). Western Psychological Services, Los Angeles

    Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    McIntosh DN, Miller LJ, Shyu V (s.d.) Development and validation of the short sensory profile (SSP). The Sensory Profile: Examiner’s Manual; Dunn, W., Ed, 59–73

  40. 40.

    Howlin P, Savage S, Moss P, Tempier A, Rutter M (2014) Cognitive and language skills in adults with autism: a 40-year follow-up. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 55(1):49–58. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12115

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Wechsler D (2014) WISC-V: Administration and Scoring Manual. NCS Pearson, Incorporated

  42. 42.

    Wechsler D (2002) Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of IntelligenceTM—Third Edition (WPPSITM—III). Wechsler

  43. 43.

    Kaufman A, Kaufman N (2004) Kaufman assessment battery for children: Technical manual, 2nd edn. American Guidance Service, Circle Pines

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Schopler E (2005) PEP-3 psychoeducational profile: TEACCH individualized psychoeducational assessment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders : Object Kit. Pro-Ed

  45. 45.

    Brunet O, Lézine I (1981) Echelle de développement psychomoteur de la première enfance. EAP

  46. 46.

    Sparrow SS, Cicchetti DV, Balla DA (2005) Vineland adaptive behavior scales, 2nd edn. AGS Publishing, Circle Pines MN

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Aman MG, Singh NN, Stewart AW, Field CJ (1985) The aberrant behavior checklist: a behavior rating scale for the assessment of treatment effects. Am J Ment Defic 89(5):485–491

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Little LM, Dean E, Tomchek SD, Dunn W (2017) Classifying sensory profiles of children in the general population. Child Care, Health Dev 43(1):81–88. https://doi.org/10.1111/cch.12391

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Baghdadli A, Michelon C, Pernon E, Picot M-C, Miot S, Sonié S et al (2018) Adaptive trajectories and early risk factors in the autism spectrum: a 15-year prospective study. Autism Res: Off J Int Soc Autism Res 11(11):1455–1467. https://doi.org/10.1002/aur.2022

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Fountain C, Winter AS, Bearman PS (2012) Six developmental trajectories characterize children with autism. Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-1601

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Szatmari P, Georgiades S, Duku E, Bennett TA, Bryson S, Fombonne E et al (2015) Developmental trajectories of symptom severity and adaptive functioning in an inception cohort of preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. JAMA Psychiatry 72(3):276–283. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.2463

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Baranek GT, Woynaroski TG, Nowell S, Turner-Brown L, DuBay M, Crais ER, Watson LR (2018) Cascading effects of attention disengagement and sensory seeking on social symptoms in a community sample of infants at-risk for a future diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Dev Cogn Neurosci 29:30–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2017.08.006

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Nieto C, López B, Gandía H (2017) Relationships between atypical sensory processing patterns, maladaptive behaviour and maternal stress in Spanish children with autism spectrum disorder. J Intellectual Disability Res: JIDR 61(12):1140–1150. https://doi.org/10.1111/jir.12435

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Rattaz C, Michelon C, Munir K, Baghdadli A (2018) Challenging behaviours at early adulthood in autism spectrum disorders: topography, risk factors and evolution. J Intellectual Disability Res: JIDR 62(7):637–649. https://doi.org/10.1111/jir.12503

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Kientz MA, Dunn W (1997) A comparison of the performance of children with and without autism on the sensory profile. Am J Occup Ther 51(7):530–537. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.51.7.530

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Schaaf RC, Dumont RL, Arbesman M, May-Benson TA (2018) Efficacy of occupational therapy using ayres sensory integration®: a systematic review. Am J Occup Therapy: Off Publ Am Occup Therapy Assoc 72(1):7201190010p1-7201190010p10. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.028431

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Pfeiffer BA, Koenig K, Kinnealey M, Sheppard M, Henderson L (2011) Effectiveness of sensory integration interventions in children with autism spectrum disorders: a pilot study. Am J Occup Therapy: Off Publ Am Occup Therapy Assoc 65(1):76–85

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the contributing families and ELENA cohort staff (Ela Miniarikova, Flore Couty, Lee Audras-Torrent, Mathilde Bérard, Myriam Soussana, Julie Loubersac, Laetitia Ferrando, and Christelle Vernhet). We would also like to express our gratitude to the CNSA and DGOS for funding to conduct this research.


This research received support from the French Health Ministry (DGOS) and CNSA. The CHU of Montpellier (AOI) provided additional support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information




FD and AB conceived the study, contributed to the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. AB is the PI of the ELENA cohort. CM and MCP analyzed and interpreted the data and critically revised it for the principal intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final version.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amaria Baghdadli.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Ethical approval

The study and informed consent procedure were approved by the Ethics Committee on the Research of Human Subjects at Marseille Mediterranean and the National Commission for Computing and Liberties (CNIL. number DR-2015-393).

Informed consent

All participating families signed an informed consent form.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Dellapiazza, F., Michelon, C., Picot, MC. et al. A longitudinal exploratory study of changes in sensory processing in children with ASD from the ELENA cohort. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-021-01746-1

Download citation


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Sensory processing
  • Developmental change
  • Longitudinal data analysis