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ASD vs. SPD: A Research Study

By Sarah A. Schoen, PhD, OTR
Assistant Director of Research, SPD Foundation
Clinical Services Advisor, STAR (Sensory Therapies And Research) Center

It is becoming increasingly evident that a high incidence of sensory processing difficulties exists in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder ( Leekam, et. al. 2007; Baker, et. al. 2008) as well as in children with Sensory Processing Disorder ( ). However, there are very few studies that compare the behavioral and sensory symptoms in children with ASD to those with SPD. In both clinical groups we see problems in sensory processing that are associated with challenges in daily life tasks and routines (; Rogers, et al. 2003; Kern, et. al. 2006; Hilton et. al. 2007; Bar-Shalita, et. al. 2008). These children often suffer from impaired self-esteem, anxiety, depression or aggression. Common symptoms result in problems in social participation, self-regulation and the performance of every day activities (Baker, et. al. 2008; Cohn, et. al. 2000, Talay-Ongan & Wood, 2000; Smith, et. al. 2005; Ashburner et. al. 2008). When we reviewed the literature, we found that the profile of sensory - related behaviors in children with ASD seemed different from children with other developmental disorders (Adrien, et. al. 1987; Rogers, et. al. 2003; Leekam, et. al. 2007; Ermer & Dunn, 1998).

One study in particular suggests that sensory under-responsivity is the most common atypical sensory related behavior problem in children with ASD (). However, no study compares children with ASD to children with SPD. Last year we published a study using the Short Sensory Profile (and electrodermal activity) and found different sensory related behaviors between the two clinical groups (). Children with ASD had more taste/smell sensitivity and sensory under-responsivity, while the SPD group had more atypical sensory seeking behaviors (Schoen, et. al. 2009).

The SPD Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, is expanding on this research to determine unique and overlapping characteristics of SPD and ASD by collecting data on a wider range of behavioral and sensory symptoms. The renowned researcher, Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, who has written extensively on the sensory characteristics of individuals with autism, met with our esteemed Dr. Lucy Jane Miller last fall to learn more about SPD. He was very open and intrigued with our research.

The SPD Foundation's expansion in research through collaboration with Dr. Baron-Cohen includes an on-line survey that you (a parent of or an individual with SPD or ASD) can complete. The on-line survey requires the person filling it out to complete a series of questionnaires about the individual with SPD or ASD. We hope the findings from these surveys will provide a better understanding about SPD and ASD.

The will take about one hour in total. To participate in the study, individuals must be 18 years of age or older, and your child must be 5 years or older. Participants will be directed to a page on the Cambridge Psychology website, where they will be invited to complete the questionnaires.

Only authorized people directly involved in the study will have access to personal information, and this information will be treated as strictly confidential. This study has the approval of the Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cambridge and the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions Institutional Review Board.

In addition, if you agree to take part, you will automatically be entered into a drawing with a chance to win a 50 ($80) Amazon voucher.

If you are interested in participating, please go to Once you have logged in please complete the Child Perception Study. If you have any questions, you can contact Teresa Tavassoli at the University of Cambridge by email at or by phone 01223-746157 or 07826123529. You can also contact Anna Legenkaya at the SPD Foundation by e-mail at or by phone 303-794-1182.

Thank you for considering taking part in this study. Our research depends entirely on the goodwill of potential volunteers such as you.

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