Sensory Correlates of Autism Risk in the First Year of Life: A Multi-Cohort Study
Objectives: This study examines the relationship of sensory features to ASD risk in 12-month-old infants from varying risk cohorts.
Methods: Infant participants were members of one of three baby cohorts – babies born to mothers with asthma (asthma; n=69; mean age=12.7 months), babies born preterm (preterm; n=30; mean corrected age=12.19 months) and general population controls (controls; n=50; mean age=12.3 months). All infants attended a study visit where developmental (Bayley-III), sensory (Toddler Sensory Profile 2/TSP2; Test of Sensory Function in Infants/TSFI) and ASD risk (First Year Inventory; FYI) measures were administered. Spearman rho correlation analyses were conducted by cohort examining the relationship of sensory features with ASD risk. Preliminary stepwise regression analysis was then used to identify the most salient sensory features predictive of increased ASD risk across all three baby cohorts. Cognitive function was included in all analyses as a co-variate.
Results: FYI Total Risk score was negatively associated with Bayley Cognitive Composite score in asthma and control baby cohorts (asthma rs=-0.35, p=0.003; controls rs=-0.35, p=0.02) but not the preterm group (rs=0.27, p=0.16). In the asthma group, FYI Total Risk was further associated with TSP2 sensory sensitivity (rs=0.41, p=0.001), sensory avoiding (rs=0.26, p=0.03) and poor sensory registration (rs=0.31, p=0.01). In the preterm group, there were no significant associations between FYI Total Risk and any of the sensory measures. In the control group, FYI Total Risk was associated with TSP2 sensory avoiding (rs=0.33, p=0.02). No significant associations were observed between the TSFI total score and FYI Total Risk. Preliminary stepwise regression analysis revealed TSP2 sensory sensitivity as the best predictor of FYI Total Risk across all three cohorts (R2=0.26, F=35.02, p=0.001).
Conclusions: The relationship of sensory features to ASD risk at 12 months of age varied by infant cohort. Sensory sensitivity, however, was identified as a moderate level predictor of ASD risk at 12 months of age independent of cognitive function and cohort membership. These findings suggest that early sensory sensitivity may be a common variant in infants with risk for ASD. Further elucidation of the variance in sensory features across infant cohorts, however, may assist in identifying distinct sensory phenotypes associated with early autism risk.
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