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March 1981

Sensory Receptor Sensitivity in Autistic Children: Response Times to Proximal and Distal Stimulation

Author Affiliations

From the Child Study Center, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1981;38(3):271-273. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1981.01780280039003

• On the basis of behavioral observation, it has been postulated that autistic children prefer proximal (touch, taste) to distal (sight, hearing) sensory modalities. To assess this systematically, autistic children's simple response times were measured with auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation. Children were studied for up to 25 sessions of 40 trials with each modality. Response times were significantly related to mental age. Autistic children's responses were significantly slower than normal children's. However, autistic children and normal children had the same pattern, fastest responding to auditory stimuli and slowest responding to tactile stimulation. Autistic children's preference for proximal stimuli probably reflects a continuation of immature behavior rather than a basic disturbance in sensory receptor sensitivity.