a mother holding a baby, the baby is pointing.Approximately 90% of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have some form of sensory issue regarding stimuli like smells, sounds, or textures. New research shows that the mothers of children with autism may be just as affected by sensory stimulation as their kids. Previous studies have examined how unaffected siblings of children with autism have unusual sensory responses, but this study is the first to investigate atypical sensory responses in mothers.

The researchers surveyed 50 mothers of children with autism who did not have an ASD themselves. They recruited the mothers from schools and support groups in South Wales, United Kingdom. A multidisciplinary team confirmed the children’s autism diagnoses. The women filled out the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile (AASP), a questionnaire that rates sensory experiences. Then, the researchers compared the women’s AASP scores to those of women in the general population.

Of the women surveyed, 98% had atypical responses to sensory stimuli like light, sound, and touch. Only 2% responded typically to stimuli, compared with 62% of women in the general population.

Sensory responses are characterized by four subtypes. The subtypes are defined along a spectrum of high versus low sensitivity to simulation like noise or touch and along a spectrum of avoidance versus passive tolerance of stimulation. The women were categorized into one or more subtype based on their scores.

  • Thirty-one of the women (62%) respond slower to sensory stimuli than average.

  • Thirty of the women (60%) have low “sensation seeking” ratings indicating that they do not actively seek stimulation.

  • Twenty-four (48%) of the women actively avoid unpleasant sensory stimuli, such as loud music.

People with disorders like anxiety, depression, and ADHD also struggle with sensory issues; this type of sensitivity is not unique to people with ASD. Understanding why mothers and children share sensory issues may be a question of genetics, but the researchers are not certain. More research is needed to understand the link between sensory responses, autism spectrum disorders, and family.

This research is published in the journal Molecular Autism.

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