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Are 'Sensory' Issues Really That Unique in Persons with Autism?

Another week and another unconfirmed 'study' along the autism magical mystery tour...and consistently the opposite of 'best practice' in autism. This one starts with '...the study confirms the association between sensory experiences and autism across the entire autism spectrum, suggesting that sensory traits might serve as a dimensional measure of the severity of ASD."

Then, in about the same breath - or thought - it goes on to identify that it 'should be noted, however, that unusual sensory experiences are not unique to ASD.'

So now what to think? Is it the autism - or is it not?

That autism is a remarkably heterogeneous and individual experience; more an umbrella term than a unique 'diagnosis' strongly infers that that 'sensory' aspects reflect just one more human experience which can also just as easily appear in persons given an ASD diagnosis as those not.

It also means that despite the fact that NO research exists to compare and contrast 'sensory' experiences to that of same age populations without autism, their unique presence in and relevance to ASD remains conjecture far more in the realm of pseudoscience.

The need to more clearly and operantly define what is meant by 'sensory' impact is also routinely overlooked. Lists I've seen can include everything from simple non-compliance, inattention and feeding to acting out and self injury. This presents as a rather broad reach to include variables routinely managed via effective individualized instruction and/or functionally aligned behavioral interventions.

This review then says that '...researchers found that trait anxiety, a history of psychiatric conditions, and a history of migraines were all associated with higher sensory scores, even after controlling for ASD traits. Thus, individuals with these conditions may report high levels of unusual sensory experiences which could potentially lead to a misdiagnosis of ASD."

Can 'lead to a misdiagnosis of ASD' based on 'unusual sensory experiences.' A regular history of migraines can often also generate very 'unusual sensory experiences.'

I've been involved in autism services for decades and have, not once, found migraines unique to the population. A more parsimonious interpretation of this long statement is that the supposed prevalence rates of autism especially based on 'sensory' correlations are dubious, to say the least.

Another statement which identifies that it '...also appears unlikely that abnormal sensory experiences underpin all ASD symptoms' have been argued by some of us for years even as sensory treatments continue to be pushed...sometimes for years....without any quantifiable outcomes.

Questionably, a conclusion still pursued by this piece is that 'even so, it appears that if sensory symptoms were treated successfully, then some core ASD symptoms, such as stereotypes, might also be reduced (or vice versa)."

I'm not even sure what, exactly, this means.

Though another statement with which I agree is that 'further research is needed to examine this issue,' a closely related point which routinely goes unidentified is that stereotypes are not 'core' or unique to ASD at all but broadly occur across human behavior as well as a range of developmental need.

The article finally - and accurately - ends with the identification that the 'cognitive/biological basis...between autistic traits and sensory problems is unknown and further work is required to determine whether improving sensory processing could effectively reduce the severity of ASD symptoms.'

Since we don't know - can't agree on - exactly what 'sensory problems' in autism are, this statement also potentially misleads.

One important point, and one about which I've written now on multiple occasions is that those issues which are so often broadly claimed as 'sensory problems' much more routinely reflect adaptive and instructional deficits, ill fitting environmental dynamics and/or functional environmental relationships which can be individually assessed for and supported via natural environmental, structural, behavioral and/or instructional interventions rather than maintaining the magical neurological mythology of autism.

So, even though the 'cognitive/biological relationship between autistic traits and sensory problems (remain) unknown (and) further work is required to determine whether improving sensory processing could effectively reduce the severity of ASD symptoms,' such 'sensory' dynamics continue to be a broadly presumed need and area of perpetual - and too often counterproductive - treatment for about anybody, especially younger children, given an autism diagnosis.

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