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Tactile defensiveness, characterized by behavioral hyperresponsiveness and negative emotional responses to touch, is a common manifestation of aberrant sensory processing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD). Variations in tactile defensiveness with the properties of the stimulus and the bodily site of stimulation have been addressed in adults with self-report of perceived tactile pleasantness, but not in children. We presented three materials (pleasant, unpleasant, social) at three bodily sites and measured both examiner-coded defensiveness and self-reported pleasantness from a group of children with ASD and two comparison groups (one with DD, one with typical development (TD)). The main findings were: (1) children with ASD and DD showed significantly more defensiveness reactions and lower pleasantness ratings than the TD group, with higher variability, (2) there was a double dissociation for the effects of material and bodily site of stimulation: while bodily site predicted behavioral defensiveness, material predicted pleasantness rating. Additionally, it was noted that (3) the most pleasant material and the social touch conditions best distinguished ASD and DD from TD on defensiveness, and (4) within the ASD group, social impairment and defensiveness in bodily sites associated with social touch were positively correlated, suggesting a clinically relevant distinction between social and discriminative touch in ASD.
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- Self-reported Pleasantness Ratings and Examiner-Coded Defensiveness in Response to Touch in Children with ASD: Effects of Stimulus Material and Bodily Location
Carissa J. Cascio
Grace T. Baranek
- Springer US