Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Show Different Brain ‘Wiring’ Children with sensory processing disorders may have decreased structural brain connections in specific sensory regions that differ from those in autism, further establishing SPD as a clinically important neurodevelopmental disorder. The study, published July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to compare structural connectivity in the brains ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   October 01, 2014
Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Show Different Brain ‘Wiring’
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Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   October 01, 2014
Kids With Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism Show Different Brain ‘Wiring’
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB5.19102014.np
The ASHA Leader, October 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB5.19102014.np
Children with sensory processing disorders may have decreased structural brain connections in specific sensory regions that differ from those in autism, further establishing SPD as a clinically important neurodevelopmental disorder. The study, published July 30 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to compare structural connectivity in the brains of boys with an autism diagnosis versus those with an SPD diagnosis, and with a group of typically developing boys.
Children with SPD struggle to process competing sensory stimulation, which can be associated with a wide range of symptoms including hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch; poor fine motor skills; and distractibility. Some children with SPD cannot tolerate the sound of a vacuum, while others struggle with emotional regulation or can’t hold a pencil. Further, a sound that is an irritant one day can be tolerated the next. The condition can be baffling for parents and has been a source of much controversy for clinicians who debate whether it constitutes its own disorder, according to the authors.
In the study, researchers led by Pratik Mukherjee, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and bioengineering at the University of California–San Francisco, used an advanced form of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging, which measures the microscopic movement of water molecules within the brain, producing information about the brain’s white matter tracts. The brain’s white matter forms the “wiring” that links different areas of the brain and is therefore essential for perceiving, thinking and action. DTI shows the direction of the white matter fibers and the integrity of the white matter, thereby mapping the structural connections between brain regions.
The authors examined the structural connectivity of specific white matter tracts in16 boys with SPD and 15 boys with autism (ages 8–12) and compared them with 23 typically developing boys of the same age range. The researchers found that the groups with SPD and autism showed decreased connectivity in multiple parieto-occipital tracts—areas that handle sensory information. However, only the cohort with autism showed impairment in the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculi, inferior longitudinal fasciculi, fusiform-amygdala and the fusiform-hippocampus tracts— tracts critical for social-emotional processing.
Kids with isolated SPD showed less connectivity in the basic perception and integration tracts of the brain that serve as connections for the auditory, visual and somatosensory (tactile) systems involved in sensory processing.
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October 2014
Volume 19, Issue 10