Candidate Review:

Unisensory and Multisensory Disruptions in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Leslie Dowell* and Mark T. Wallace§

*Neuroscience Graduate Program, Vanderbilt University Medical School, U1205 Medical Center North, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.
§Vanderbilt Brain Institute, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.
Correspondence to L.D. e-mail:

Abstract | Full Text | PDF

ABSTRACT | Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of neurodevelopmental disorders which are diagnosed using the following triad of symptoms: impairments in social interaction, impairments in language, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities. A great deal of heterogeneity in the severity of the three symptom classes exists amongst individuals affected by this disorder giving rise to distinct diagnoses such as autism, Asperger’s, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)1. When incorporating all disorders on the autism spectrum, the current prevalence estimate indicates that one in every 150 children is affected by ASD2. In addition to the diagnostic triad of symptoms, sensory and perceptual disruptions are frequently associated with ASD. In fact, the original depiction of autism published by Kanner in 1943 included descriptions of sensory abnormalities such as fascination with particular stimuli as well as aversions to innocuous stimuli3. Many studies have since been published which seek to characterize these sensory disturbances in ASD. Many researchers have also developed sensory integration therapies which they claim are effective in lessening the severity of symptoms in ASD4,5,6. However, many argue that there is no empirical evidence to support the efficacy of these treatments7,8,9. This review will highlight studies which examined unisensory and multisensory processing in ASD. Evidence will be described briefly as to why one particular aspect of multisensory integration (i.e. temporal multisensory processing) is likely to be disrupted in ASD. A brief introduction to multisensory processing will follow, and the review will conclude with how the hypothesis of disrupted temporal multisensory processing in autism may be tested.