Distorted sense of touch linked with social problems in autism


Problems with recognising stimuli associated with touch are related to problems developing relationships in people with autism, according to research out of UGent

Delayed recognition

People with autism have a distorted sense of touch, which hinders their social interaction, according to findings by Ghent University (UGent) neuroscientist Eliane Deschrijver.

Many people with autism experience sensory stimuli differently than others. They have problems with bright lights, noise or busy environments, for instance. Others have a high threshold for pain or don’t like to be touched.

People with autism also often have difficulties maintaining friendships and other relationships as they don’t seem to have the emotional ability to understand or respond appropriately to other people.

Deschrijver examined whether there was a link between the obstructed processing of sensory stimuli and the social difficulties, focusing on the sense of touch. The UGent team set up an experiment in which people with and without autism saw on a computer screen how a hand touched a surface with the index finger or middle finger, while at the same time receiving a minor sensation on one of their own index or middle fingers.

Via the EEG imaging technique, the researchers noticed that the brain of people without autism ascertain after 300 milliseconds whether the stimuli on the screen’s finger corresponds to the stimuli on their own finger. This instant recognition is essential in social interactions, Deschrijver explained.

This mechanism turned out to work much less efficiently in people with autism, whose brains had trouble signalling whether a touch corresponded with what they felt.

Photo: Ingimage

Ghent University

Ghent University (UGent) is one of Flanders’ most pluralistic and liberal institutions of higher education, and its motto has long been “dare to think”. UGent is renowned for its research in bio and life sciences.
Latin - UGent was originally founded as a Latin-speaking state university by the Dutch king William I.
Nobel - Corneel Heymans, the only Fleming to have won a Nobel Prize, studied at the university.
Autonomy - UGent is the largest employer in East Flanders.

million euros in annual revenue

1 882

first female student admitted

1 930

Dutch becomes university’s official language