Tactile Perception in Adults with Autism: a Multidimensional Psychophysical Study

Abstract

Although sensory problems, including unusual tactile sensitivity, are heavily associated with autism, there is a dearth of rigorous psychophysical research. We compared tactile sensation in adults with autism to controls on the palm and forearm, the latter innervated by low-threshold unmyelinated afferents subserving a social/affiliative submodality of somatosensation. At both sites, the groups displayed similar thresholds for detecting light touch and innocuous sensations of warmth and cool, and provided similar hedonic ratings of the pleasantness of textures. In contrast, increased sensitivity to vibration was seen in the autism group on the forearm, along with increased sensitivity to thermal pain at both sites. These findings suggest normal perception along with certain areas of enhanced perception in autism, consistent with previous studies.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the participants and their families, and the University of North Carolina Autism Research Registry. This work was partially supported by NIH grants R01-HD42168 (awarded to G.B.) and NS045685 (awarded to G.E.), funds available from F. McGlone (Unilever R&D Port Sunlight), and a grant from the Foundation of Hope for Research and Treatment in Mental Illness (awarded to K.P). Dr Pelphrey is supported by NIMH grant K01-MH01725, and a John Merck Scholar’s Award. Dr Cascio is supported by training grants T32-HD040127-04 (PI: Joseph Piven) and T32-MH019111-15 (PI: John Gilmore).

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Correspondence to Carissa Cascio.

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Cascio, C., McGlone, F., Folger, S. et al. Tactile Perception in Adults with Autism: a Multidimensional Psychophysical Study. J Autism Dev Disord 38, 127–137 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-007-0370-8

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Sensory
  • Tactile
  • Psychophysics
  • CT afferents