Sensory Over-responsivity: A Feature of Childhood Psychiatric Illness Associated With Altered Functional Connectivity of Sensory Networks

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Background: Sensory over-responsivity (SOR) is recognized as a common feature of autism spectrum disorder. However, SOR is also common among typically developing children, in whom it is associated with elevated levels of psychiatric symptoms. The clinical significance and neurocognitive bases of SOR in these children remain poorly understood and actively debated. Methods: This study used linear mixed-effects models to identify psychiatric symptoms and network-level functional connectivity (FC) differences associated with parent-reported SOR in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, a large community sample (9 to 12 years of age) (N = 11,210). Results: Children with SOR constituted 18% of the overall sample but comprised more than half of the children with internalizing or externalizing scores in the clinical range. Controlling for autistic traits, both mild and severe SOR were associated with greater concurrent symptoms of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Controlling for psychiatric symptoms and autistic traits, SOR predicted increased anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and prodromal psychosis symptoms 1 year later and was associated with FC differences in brain networks supporting sensory and salience processing in datasets collected 2 years apart. Differences included reduced FC within and between sensorimotor networks, enhanced sensorimotor-salience FC, and altered FC between sensory networks and bilateral hippocampi. Conclusions: SOR is a common, clinically relevant feature of childhood psychiatric illness that provides unique predictive information about risk. It is associated with differences in brain networks that subserve tactile processing, implicating a neural basis for sensory differences in affected children.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-101
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023


  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Sensory over-responsivity


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