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Atypical sensory sensitivity as a shared feature between synaesthesia and autism

Jamie Ward, Claire Hoadley, James E A Hughes, Paula Smith, Carrie Allison, Simon Baron-Cohen, Julia Simner
Scientific Reports 2017 March 7, 7: 41155
28266503
Several studies have suggested that there is a link between synaesthesia and autism but the nature of that link remains poorly characterised. The present study considers whether atypical sensory sensitivity may be a common link between the conditions. Sensory hypersensitivity (aversion to certain sounds, touch, etc., or increased ability to make sensory discriminations) and/or hyposensitivity (desire to stimulate the senses , or a reduced response to sensory stimuli are a recently introduced diagnostic feature of autism spectrum conditions (ASC). Synaesthesia is defined by unusual sensory experiences and has also been linked to a typical cortical hyper-excitability. The Glasgow Sensory Questionnaire (GSQ) was administered to synaesthetes and people with ASC. Both groups reported increased sensory sensitivity relative to controls with a large effect size. Both groups also reported a similar pattern of both increased hyper- and hypo-sensitivities across multiple senses. The AQ (Autism-Spectrum Quotient) scores were elevated in the synaesthetes, and one subscale of this measure (attention to detail) placed synaesthetes within the autistic range. A standard laboratory test of visual stress (the Pattern Glare Test), administered online, corroborated the findings of increased sensitivity to aversive visual stimuli in synaesthetes. We conclude that atypical sensory sensitivity is an important shared feature between autism and synaesthesia.

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