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Disorder-specific alterations of tactile sensitivity in neurodevelopmental disorders

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Jason L. He, Ericka Wodka, Mark Tommerdahl, Richard A.E. Edden, Mark Mikkelsen, Stewart H. Mostofsky, Nicolaas A.J. Puts

Original languageEnglish
Article number97
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
PublishedDec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The authors declare the following competing interests: This work was funded by NIH/ NIMH R21MH098228, R01MH106564, R01MH078160, and R00MH107719. J.L.H. and N.A.P. received salary support from the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation as part Autism Sensory Research Consortium. M.T. is the president and founder of Cortical Metrics, the company that developed the tactile stimulator used for this study. S.H.M. receives royalties for US Patent 10,410,041. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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Alterations of tactile processing have long been identified in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the extent to which these alterations are disorder-specific, rather than disorder-general, and how they relate to the core symptoms of each disorder, remains unclear. We measured and compared tactile detection, discrimination, and order judgment thresholds between a large sample of children with ASD, ADHD, ASD + ADHD combined and typically developing controls. The pattern of results suggested that while difficulties with tactile detection and order judgement were more common in children with ADHD, difficulties with tactile discrimination were more common in children with ASD. Interestingly, in our subsequent correlation analyses between tactile perception and disorder-specific clinical symptoms, tactile detection and order judgment correlated exclusively with the core symptoms of ADHD, while tactile discrimination correlated exclusively with the symptoms of ASD. When taken together, these results suggest that disorder-specific alterations of lower-level sensory processes exist and are specifically related to higher-level clinical symptoms of each disorder.

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