Autism Research Finds Empirical Link Between Multisensory Integration and Autism

Share Article

A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has provided concrete evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) process sensory information such as sound, touch and vision differently than typically developing children.

“If you have all these sights and sounds coming at you but you can’t put them together in a meaningful way, the world can be an overwhelming place,” said senior author Sophie Molholm, Ph.D.

A new study by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University has provided concrete evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) process sensory information such as sound, touch and vision differently than typically developing children.

“If you have all these sights and sounds coming at you but you can’t put them together in a meaningful way, the world can be an overwhelming place,” said senior author Sophie Molholm, Ph.D., associate professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of pediatrics.

The study, which appears in the August 19 online issue of Autism Research, supports decades of clinical and anecdotal observations that individuals with ASD have difficulty coping with sensory information. The Einstein finding could lead to objective measures for evaluating the effectiveness of autism therapies.

The theory that autistic kids have trouble processing multisensory information has not been reliably supported by behavioral studies, and has rarely, if at all, been tested using measures of brain activity. Over the last few years, Dr. Molholm and her colleagues have been refining methods for measuring multisensory integration (MSI) using brainwave electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings.

In the current study, researchers measured MSI in 17 ASD children, ages 6 to 16, and 17 typically developing children matched for age and non-verbal IQ. The children watched a silent video while being presented with unrelated sounds and vibrations. The responses of the typically developing children to the multisensory stimuli exceeded the sum of their responses to the unisensory stimuli — an indication of healthy MSI, according to the researchers. In the ASD children, by contrast, there was little difference between the sum of children’s unisensory responses and their multisensory responses, indicating that these kids were not effectively integrating multisensory information.

According to co-author John Foxe, Ph.D., professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience and of pediatrics and director of research of the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Einstein, “This doesn’t mean that the children with ASD didn’t integrate the information at all, but it does mean that they didn’t integrate it as effectively as they should have, given their age and maturity. They may go on to integrate well later in life. We don’t know.”

“This was a much-needed study of multisensory integration in autism,” said Barry E. Stein, Ph.D., professor and chair of neurobiology & anatomy at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, who was not involved in the Einstein study. “Using simple logic and standard techniques for electrically mapping the brain, the authors have identified defects in the way ASD individuals synthesize cues from different senses.”

The study, “Multisensory processing in children with autism: high-density electrical mapping of auditory-somatosensory integration,” appears in the August 19 online issue of Autism Research.

###

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print