Sensory abnormalities across psychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions in childhood

Kaycee Reese, PhD

Massachusetts General Hospital – Faculty

Scientific Abstract


Sensory Abnormalities (SAs) are a core feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD),  yet growing evidence suggests SA prevalence in other psychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions. We investigated diagnostic group differences in SA type and presentation, and how number of SAs associate with psychopathology.


A clinically referred outpatient sample of 1209 youth ages 6-17 (11.1 ± 3.1 yrs; 37.3% girls) was used to examine the association between psychopathology and SAs. Logistic regression analyses examined the association between 7 diagnostic groups and 5 frequently described SAs. Next, a negative binomial regression was used to predict number of SAs. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses examined the association between SA count and internalizing/externalizing problems controlling for age, sex, psychotropic medication, and IQ in step 1 and ASD status in step 3.


A diagnosis of ASD increased the risk of having any of the five SAs (Odds Ratios (OR) between 1.88-3.53; all p-values <.003). ADHD was associated with pain hyposensitivity (OR=1.56, p=.039). Children with AD had an increased risk for gagging/vomiting (OR=1.45, p=.016), tactile defensiveness (OR=2.01, p<.001), hypersensitive for noise (OR=2.24, p=.004), and hyposensitivity to pain (OR=1.52, p=.04). The negative binomial regression yielded significant incidence rate ratios (IRR) for ADHD (IRR=1.17, p=.015), ASD (IRR=1.87, p<.001), AD (IRR=1.37, p< .001), and ODD (IRR=1.18, p=.035). A significant association between number of SAs and internalizing problems was found where youth with 1, 2, and 3 or more SAs  had higher t-scores of respectively 4.4 (p<.001), 6.5 (p<.001), and 9.5 (p<.001) on internalizing problems. Smaller but significant associations were found on externalizing problems where youth with 1, 2, and 3 or more SAs had respectively 2.3 (p=.008), 2.7 (p=.004), and 5.0 (p<.001) higher t-scores.


SAs are most prevalent in ASD, but also increased in Anxiety, ADHD, and ODD. Specific SAs are associated with ADHD and Anxiety. Higher SA count increases internalizing problems. These findings add to the growing literature on SAs, and have clinical implications.

research Areas


Kaycee Reese, PhD, Pieter Vuijk, PhD, Mary Colvin, PhD, Drew Coman, PhD, Lauren Fleming, BS, Alysa Doyle, PhD, Ellen Braaten, PhD

Principal Investigator

Ellen Braaten, PhD