Link Between Touch Sense of Individuals with Autism and Their Social Difficulties

The sense of touch may play a more crucial role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than previously assumed. The main findings of the doctoral research of Eliane Deschrijver at Ghent University, which are now published, show that individuals with ASD may have difficulties in determining which tactile sensations they experience belong to the action of someone else. Many individuals with ASD are over- or under-sensitive to sensory information. Some feel overwhelmed by busy environments such as supermarkets, others are less sensitive to pain, or dislike being touched. Large-scale queries in the scientific literature have already reported that the severity of daily social difficulties of individuals with ASD is strongly related to the extent to which they are sensitive to touch, more so than to the extent to which they show visual or auditory sensitivities. To determine why this is the case, Eliane Deschrijver and her colleagues investigated how the brain of individuals with and without ASD uses “own touch” to understand touch sensations in the actions of others. Professor Dr. Marcel Brass clarifies: “We think that the human brain uses the own sense of touch to distinguish one’s self from others: When I perform an action that leads to a tactile sensation, for instance by making a grasping movement, I expect to feel a tactile sensation that corresponds to this. If my own touch tells me something else, the tactile sensation will probably belong to the other person, and not to me.
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