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Sensory responsiveness and communication in infant siblings (Feldman et al., 2021)

posted on 2021-05-18, 20:34 authored by Jacob I. Feldman, Sweeya Raj, Sarah M. Bowman, Pooja Santapuram, Alexandra J. Golden, Claire Daly, Kacie Dunham, Evan Suzman, Ashley E. Augustine, Varsha Garla, Aine Muhumuza, Carissa J. Cascio, Kathryn L. Williams, Anne V. Kirby, Bahar Keceli-Kaysili, Tiffany G. Woynaroski
Purpose: Differences in communication development impact long-term outcomes of children with autism. Previous research has identified factors associated with communication in children with autism, but much of the variance in communication skill remains unexplained. It has been proposed that early differences in sensory responsiveness (i.e., hyporesponsiveness, hyperresponsiveness, and sensory seeking) may produce “cascading effects” on communication. Evidence for this theory is limited, however, as relations between sensory responsiveness and communication in the earliest stages of development have not been well established. The purpose of this study was to evaluate (a) whether infants with a heightened likelihood of autism diagnosis (i.e., infants with an older sibling with autism) differ from infants at general population–level likelihood of autism (i.e., infants with an older, nonautistic sibling) on patterns of sensory responsiveness, (b) whether early sensory responsiveness is correlated with concurrent communication, and (c) whether the aforementioned between-groups differences and associations are moderated by age.
Method: Participants were 40 infants (20 infants with an older sibling with autism, 20 infants with an older, nonautistic sibling) aged 12–18 months. A series of observational and parent report measures of sensory responsiveness and communication skill were administered.
Results: Group differences in sensory responsiveness across the 12- to 18-month period were limited (i.e., only observed for one measure of hyporesponsiveness), though selected differences in sensory responsiveness (i.e., parent-reported hyperresponsiveness and sensory seeking) emerged between groups over this developmental window. Parent-reported hyporesponsiveness was unconditionally, negatively associated with communication skills. Associations between expressive communication and (a) parent-reported sensory seeking and (b) an observational measure of hyperresponsiveness were moderated by age.
Conclusions: This study provides new insights into the nature of sensory responsiveness and theorized links with communication skill in infants at elevated and general population–level likelihood of autism diagnosis. Further work is needed to better characterize the effects of interest in a larger sample spanning a wider age range.

Supplemental Material S1. Pearson correlations between all variables used in analyses.

Supplemental Material S2. Partial correlations between indices of sensory responsiveness and communication controlling for chronological age.

Feldman, J. I., Raj, S., Bowman, S. M., Santapuram, P., Golden, A. J., Daly, C., Dunham, K., Suzman, E., Augustine, A. E., Garla, V., Muhumuza, A., Cascio, C. J., Williams, K. L., Kirby, A. V., Keceli-Kaysili, B., & Woynaroski, T. G. (2021). Sensory responsiveness is linked with communication in infant siblings of children with and without autism. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.


This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant U54 HD083211 (Principal Investigator [PI]: Neul), National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Grant KL2TR000446 and National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Grant 1R21DC016144 (PI:Woynaroski), National Institutes of Health Grant T32 MH064913 (PI:Winder), National Science Foundation Research Traineeship Grant DGE 19-22697 (PI: Wallace), and Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research Award VR14759 (PIs: Cascio and Woynaroski).