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Behavioural and neural markers of tactile sensory processing in infants at elevated likelihood of autism spectrum disorder and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalJournal Of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jan 2021
E-pub ahead of print1 Jan 2021
PublishedDec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This research was supported by awards from the Medical Research Council (MR/K021389/1; MHJ, TC), MQ (MQ14PP_83, MHJ, EJHJ, TC). Further, this work was also supported by the EU-AIMS and AIMS-2-TRIALS programmes funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) Joint Undertaking Grant Nos. 115300 (MHJ, TC) and No. 777394 (MHJ, EJHJ and TC; European Union’s FP7 and Horizon 2020, respectively). This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, with in-kind contributions from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) companies and funding from Autism Speaks, Autistica and SFARI. Teodora Gliga was funded by a Wellcome Trust grant (217469/Z/19/Z). Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Backgrounds: Atypicalities in tactile processing are reported in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but it remains unknown if they precede and associate with the traits of these disorders emerging in childhood. We investigated behavioural and neural markers of tactile sensory processing in infants at elevated likelihood of ASD and/or ADHD compared to infants at typical likelihood of the disorders. Further, we assessed the specificity of associations between infant markers and later ASD or ADHD traits. Methods: Ninety-one 10-month-old infants participated in the study (n = 44 infants at elevated likelihood of ASD; n = 20 infants at elevated likelihood of ADHD; n = 9 infants at elevated likelihood of ASD and ADHD; n = 18 infants at typical likelihood of the disorders). Behavioural and EEG responses to pairs of tactile stimuli were experimentally recorded and concurrent parental reports of tactile responsiveness were collected. ASD and ADHD traits were measured at 24 months through standardized assessment (ADOS-2) and parental report (ECBQ), respectively. Results: There was no effect of infants’ likelihood status on behavioural markers of tactile sensory processing. Conversely, increased ASD likelihood associated with reduced neural repetition suppression to tactile input. Reduced neural repetition suppression at 10 months significantly predicted ASD (but not ADHD) traits at 24 months across the entire sample. Elevated tactile sensory seeking at 10 months moderated the relationship between early reduced neural repetition suppression and later ASD traits. Conclusions: Reduced tactile neural repetition suppression is an early marker of later ASD traits in infants at elevated likelihood of ASD or ADHD, suggesting that a common pathway to later ASD traits exists despite different familial backgrounds. Elevated tactile sensory seeking may act as a protective factor, mitigating the relationship between early tactile neural repetition suppression and later ASD traits.

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