Developmental trajectories of sensory features and later functional outcomes in ASD: a longitudinal subtyping study from infancy to school age

Principal Investigator(s):
Yun-Ju Chen
Grant Type:
Graduate Research
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Year Awarded:
Year Completed:
Early Intervention; Health and Sensory Issues


Past research has demonstrated the ubiquitous presence and early emergence of sensory features (e.g., hyper- and hypo-reactivity) in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as the potential role of sensory processing as a key building block for higher-level social and cognitive functions. However, the association between early-emerging sensory features and later functional outcomes in ASD remains unclear, predominantly due to the paucity of longitudinal studies needed to parse out subtypes of sensory features and their unfolding developmental trajectories. Cross-sectional studies, comparing overall sensory features across diagnostic groups (e.g., ASD vs. Non-ASD) also limit the potential to identify within-group individual differences, insofar as ASD is a highly heterogeneous condition. To address these scientific gaps, this study will conduct follow-up analyses on an existing longitudinal cohort of children from a community sample (N=2,211) who completed surveys regarding their child’s sensory features and other ASD-related behaviors at two time points: in early infancy (9-16 months; Time 1) and in the pre-school years (3-4 years; Time 2). The participating families who have a child reported to have ASD at Time 2 (N=73) will be re-contacted to assess their child’s current level of sensory features, adaptive behavior, participation in daily activities, as well as their diagnosis status in the current school years (6-7 years; Time 3). The specific aims of this study are: (1) to subtype children from a large community sample based on differences in trajectories of sensory features over time; (2) to examine how the identified ASD sensory subtypes vary in their functional outcomes in adaptive behavior and participation in home, school and community environments. A better understanding of the heterogeneity and development of sensory features in young children with ASD may help identify behavioral risk markers as targets for early detection and intervention in order to improve adaptive outcomes and participation later in life.

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