University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Twitter Facebook Instagram LinkedIn YouTube

Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Grace Baranek PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Associate Dean, Chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Room: CHP 100D
(323) 442-2875
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Grace Baranek is a prolific scholar and internationally renowned expert on sensory features of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Illinois at the Medical Center and both her master’s and PhD degrees in psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to her 2016 appointment as associate dean and chair of the USC Chan Division, she was a professor and associate chair for research in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Beginning in 2003, Dr. Baranek was the Principal Investigator of the Sensory Experiences Project funded by the National Institute Health (NIH) National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The 10-year study totaling more than $4.5M in NICHD grant funding aimed to explain the developmental course, mechanisms and functional effects of sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sensory features are highly prevalent in children with ASD and may impact daily activities, routines and social participation.

During her career, Dr. Baranek has served as either the Principal or Co-Principal Investigator of extramural grants funded by the NIH/NICHD, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Education, the Autism Speaks Foundation, and the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). She has been a member of working groups of the National Academy of Science and the NIH to establish guidelines for evidence-based practices for children with ASD.

She has co-authored more than 65 peer-reviewed articles in interdisciplinary publications including Autism Research, Autism, the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT). She is also the lead author of the First Years Inventory, a screening tool for infants aged 9-15 months who are at risk for a later diagnosis of ASD.

In 2016, Dr. Baranek was a co-recipient of the AOTA Cordelia Myers AJOT Best Article Award and in 2013 she received the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology Editor’s Award. She has received the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) A. Jean Ayres Award and in 2008 she was inducted into the AOTF Academy of Research. She is also a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association.


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology
1996 | University of Illinois at Chicago

Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology
1993 | University of Illinois at Chicago

Bachelor of Science (BS) in Occupational Therapy
1981 | University of Illinois at the Medical Center



Journal Articles

Baranek, G. T., Carlson, M., Sideris, J., Kirby, A. V., Watson, L. R., Williams, K. L., & Bulluck, J. (2019). Longitudinal assessment of stability of sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental disabilities. Autism Research, 12(1), 100–111. Show abstractHide abstract

Prior research on the stability of sensory processing problems in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities (DD) has produced inconsistent results. We employed a longitudinal study design to assess the stability of three clinical sensory response patterns: hyporesponsiveness; hyperresponsiveness; and sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors (SIRS). Parents of children with ASD (n = 55) or DD (n = 35) responded to sensory questionnaires at two time points (T1 and T2) separated by 3.3 years on average, with the children aged 2–12 years (M = 5.69 ± 2.46) at the first assessment. For each sensory response pattern, regression analysis revealed that, for both ASD and DD groups, scores at T1 were strong predictors of scores at T2. Over the longitudinal assessment interval, there was a significant mean decline in severity for SIRS in both groups and for hyporesponsiveness in the ASD group. Parental estimates of the amount of therapy services received were positively associated with the severity of sensory features at T2, an outcome that may result from increased intervention dosages being administered to children who fail to improve over time. The results are discussed in terms of person‐centered and environmental considerations, which, in combination, have the capacity to affect stability outcomes for sensory features.


Book Chapters

Watson, L. R., Nowell, S. W., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Wakeford, L., & Turner-Brown, L. (2018). Supporting families of infants at-risk for ASD identified through community screening and surveillance. In M. Siller & L. Morgan (Eds.), Handbook of parent-implemented interventions for very young children with autism (pp. 25-43). Switzerland: Springer International. Show abstractHide abstract

Screening tools have given us the opportunity to identify risk symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infants prior to the full expression of symptoms when a definitive diagnosis can be made. Identification of ASD risk via community screening and surveillance is particularly important for the estimated 89% of infants without known genetic risk factors (such as an older sibling with ASD) who will eventually be diagnosed with ASD. Based on the application of a transactional model of development to infants at-risk for ASD, parent-implemented very early interventions have the potential to attenuate the expression of ASD symptoms in these infants and improve outcomes. In this chapter, we will (1) discuss what is known about identification of infants who are at-risk for ASD through community screening, (2) highlight the research to date examining use of parent-implemented very early interventions for infants who were identified as at-risk for ASD via community screening, and (3) offer insight into some of the advantages and obstacles in intervening with this population based on our own research experiences and those of our colleagues who have done similar work.

Journal Articles

Williams, K. L., Kirby, A. V., Watson, L. R., Sideris, J., Bulluck, J., & Baranek, G. T. (2018). Sensory features as predictors of adaptive behaviors: A comparative longitudinal study of children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 81, 103-112. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD) exhibit sensory features that differ from their typically developing peers. Prior cross-sectional research has demonstrated significant associations between elevated sensory features and lower adaptive behavior scores, yet there is limited prospective research examining longitudinal associations.
Aims. To examine the longitudinal prediction of early sensory response patterns (i.e., hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, and sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors) to later adaptive behavior outcomes in children with ASD and DD.
Methods and procedures. Children with ASD (n = 51) and DD (n = 30) were seen at two time points (Time 1: M(SD) = 5.6(2.5) years; Time 2: M(SD) = 9.0(2.2) years). We used a series of regression models with both observational and parent-report measures of sensory response patterns, and including group interactions.
Outcomes and results. All three sensory response patterns significantly predicted aspects of adaptive behaviors, with some differences based on assessment format and diagnostic group. Across groups and sensory patterns, we found some evidence that elevated sensory features early in childhood predicted lower adaptive behavior skills later in childhood.
Conclusions and implications. Sensory features may interfere with development of adaptive behaviors, suggesting a need for effective interventions addressing sensory features early in development.
Keywords. Autism; Child development disorders; Longitudinal analysis; Sensory processing; Adaptive behaviors

Boyd, B. A., Watson, L. R., Reszka, S. S., Sideris, J., Alessandri, M., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., Donaldson, A., Gutierrez, A., Johnson, L., & Belardi, K. (2018). Efficacy of the ASAP intervention for preschoolers with ASD: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(9), 3144–3162. Show abstractHide abstract

The advancing social-communication and play (ASAP) intervention was designed as a classroom-based intervention, in which the educational teams serving preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorder are trained to implement the intervention in order to improve these children’s social-communication and play skills. In this 4-year, multi-site efficacy trial, classrooms were randomly assigned to ASAP or a business-as-usual control condition. A total of 78 classrooms, including 161 children, enrolled in this study. No significant group differences were found for the primary outcomes of children’s social-communication and play. However, children in the ASAP group showed increased classroom engagement. Additionally, participation in ASAP seemed to have a protective effect for one indicator of teacher burnout. Implications for future research are discussed.
Keywords. Autism spectrum disorder; ASAP; Randomized controlled trial; School interventions; Engagement; Social-communication

Failla, M. D., Moana-Filho, E. J., Essick, G. K., Baranek, G. T., Rogers, B. P., & Cascio, C. J. (2018). Initially intact neural responses to pain in autism are diminished during sustained pain. Autism, 22(6), 669-683. Show abstractHide abstract

Pain assessments typically depend on self-report of the pain experience. Yet, in individuals with autism spectrum disorders, this can be an unreliable due to communication difficulties. Importantly, observations of behavioral hypo- and hyperresponsivity to pain suggest altered pain sensitivity in autism spectrum disorder. Neuroimaging may provide insight into mechanisms underlying pain behaviors. The neural pain signature reliably responds to painful stimulation and is modulated by other outside regions, affecting the pain experience. In this first functional magnetic resonance imaging study of pain in autism spectrum disorder, we investigated neural responses to pain in 15 adults with autism spectrum disorder relative to a typical comparison group (n = 16). We explored temporal and spatial properties of the neural pain signature and its modulators during sustained heat pain. The two groups had indistinguishable pain ratings and neural pain signature responses during acute pain; yet, we observed strikingly reduced neural pain signature response in autism spectrum disorder during sustained pain and after stimulus offset. The posterior cingulate cortex, a neural pain signature modulating region, mirrored this late signal reduction in autism spectrum disorder. Intact early responses, followed by diminished late responses to sustained pain, may reflect altered pain coping or evaluation in autism spectrum disorder. Evidence of a dichotomous neural response to initial versus protracted pain may clarify the coexistence of both hypo- and hyperresponsiveness to pain in autism spectrum disorder.

Nowell, S. W., Watson, L. R., Faldowski, R. A., & Baranek, G. T. (2018). An initial psychometric evaluation of the Joint Attention Protocol. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(6), 1932–1944. Show abstractHide abstract

The goal of this paper is to examine the psychometric properties of a live-coded behavioral measure of joint attention, the Attention-Following and Initiating Joint Attention Protocol (JA Protocol), in order to assist researchers and clinicians in identifying when this measure may meet their joint attention assessment needs. Data from 260 children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, or typical development between the ages of 2 and 12 years were used to evaluate this measure using quality standards for measurement. Overall, the JA Protocol demonstrated good psychometric properties. Recommendations and limitations for use of this measure based on psychometric analysis results are reported.

Zhang, W., Baranek, G. T., & Boyd, B. (2018). Brief report: Factors associated with emergency department visits for epilepsy among children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(5), 1854-1860. Show abstractHide abstract

We examined how demographic and clinical characteristics differ between emergency department (ED) visits for epilepsy (EP cohort) and ED visits for other reasons (non-EP cohort) in children with ASD. The data were drawn from the 2009 and 2010 Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. We performed both univariate and multivariate analyses to compare and contrast similarities and differences between EP cohort and non-EP cohort among children with ASD. The results showed ED visits in EP cohort were more likely to occur among adolescents aged 13–17 years, less likely to occur among children with co-occurring psychiatric conditions, and were more likely to co-occur with injury. We discussed some unique challenges for managing children with both ASD and epilepsy.

Baranek, G. T., Woynaroski, T. G., Nowell, S., Turner-Brown, L., DuBay, M., Crais, E. R., & Watson, L. R. (2018). Cascading effects of attention disengagement and sensory seeking on social symptoms in a community sample of infants at-risk for a future diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 29, 30-40. Show abstractHide abstract

Recent work suggests sensory seeking predicts later social symptomatology through reduced social orienting in infants who are at high-risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) based on their status as younger siblings of children diagnosed with ASD. We drew on extant longitudinal data from a community sample of at-risk infants who were identified at 12 months using the First Year Inventory, and followed to 3–5 years. We replicate findings of Damiano et al. (in this issue) that a) high-risk infants who go on to be diagnosed with ASD show heightened sensory seeking in the second year of life relative to those who do not receive a diagnosis, and b) increased sensory seeking indirectly relates to later social symptomatology via reduced social orienting. We extend previous findings to show that sensory seeking has more clinical utility later in the second year of life (20–24 months) than earlier (13–15 months). Further, this study suggests that diminished attention disengagement at 12–15 months may precede and predict increased sensory seeking at 20–24 months. Findings add support for the notion that sensory features produce cascading effects on social development in infants at risk for ASD, and suggest that reduced attention disengagement early in life may set off this cascade.


Journal Articles

Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Turner-Brown, L., Sideris, J., Wakeford, L., Kinard, J., Reznick, J. S., Martin, K. L., & Nowell, S. W. (2017). Parent-mediated intervention for one-year-olds screened as at-risk for autism spectrum disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(11), 3520-3540. Show abstractHide abstract

Theoretically, interventions initiated with at-risk infants prior to the point in time a definitive autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis can be made will improve outcomes. Pursuing this idea, we tested the efficacy of a parent-mediated early intervention called Adapted Responsive Teaching (ART) via a randomized controlled trial with 87 one-year-olds identified by community screening with the First Year Inventory as at-risk of later ASD diagnoses. We found minimal evidence for main effects of ART on child outcomes. However, ART group parents showed significantly greater increases in responsiveness to their infants than control group parents. Further, significant indirect (mediation) effects of assignment group on multiple child outcomes through changes in parent responsiveness supported our theory of change.

Wilson, K. P., Carter, M. W., Wiener, H. L., DeRamus, M. L., Bulluck, J. C., Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2017). Object play in infants with autism spectrum disorder: A longitudinal retrospective video analysis. Autism & Developmental Language Impairments, 2, 1-12. Show abstractHide abstract

Background and aims. Early play behaviors may provide important information regarding later-diagnosed developmental delays. Play behaviors of young children with autism spectrum disorder are restricted in diversity, frequency, and complexity. Most autism spectrum disorder research focuses on play in children over 18 months of age. This study examined three groups of infants (later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, later diagnosed with other developmental disorders, and typically developing) with the aims of: (1) describing the play behaviors of the three groups of infants at two time points (9–12 months and 15–18 months); (2) examining group differences in four hierarchical levels of play at both time points; (3) comparing groups with respect to the highest level of play achieved; and (4) determining if the highest level of play achieved by infants with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental delays correlated with later developmental outcomes.
Methods. The current study used longitudinal retrospective video analysis to examine object play behaviors of the three groups of infants (total n = 92) at two time points (time 1: 9–12 months of age, and time 2: 15–18 months of age). Coding of play behaviors was based on existing literature and distribution of data from the current study. Developmental outcomes examined were measured using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, Childhood Autism Rating Scale, and a non-verbal developmental quotient calculated using visual reception scores from the Mullen Scales for Early Learning.
Results. Results indicate group differences in play, with infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder showing significantly less sophisticated play than those with typical development. In addition, modest but significant correlations were found between highest level of play achieved at time 1 (9–12 months) and time 2 (15–18 months) and later outcomes for the autism spectrum disorder group.
Conclusions and implications. Results suggest that examination of infant play behaviors is important for early screening and intervention planning to potentially mitigate effects on later developmental outcomes.

Uljarević, M., Baranek, G. T., Vivanti, G., Hedley, D., Hudry, K., & Lane, A. (2017). Heterogeneity of sensory features in autism spectrum disorder: Challenges and perspectives for future research. Autism Research, 10(5), 703-710. Show abstractHide abstract

Pronounced heterogeneity is apparent across every facet of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and it remains difficult to predict likely future potential among individuals who share a common diagnosis of ASD on the basis of early presentation. In this commentary we argue that a fine-grained understanding of individual differences in sensory features and their influence across the life span can constrain noted clinical heterogeneity in ASD. We organize our discussion around the following three critical themes: (a) considering sensory features as dimensional construct; (b) taking an "individual differences" approach; and (c) adopting a comprehensive, multidimensional and multimodal approach to measurement of sensory features. We conclude that future research will need to investigate individual differences in sensory features via: (1) multidimensional and cross-disciplinary examination, (2) prospective longitudinal designs, and (3) dimensional and developmental frameworks that emphasize the potential value of early individual variability as indicators of later outcomes, not only in relation to the categorical diagnostic outcome status but also the presence of other clinical features. This is a key time for sensory-related research and in this commentary we provide some of the steps that, in our opinion, can shape future research in this area.

Belardi, K., Watson, L. R., Faldowski, R. A., Hazlett, H., Crais, E., Baranek, G. T., McComish, C., Patten, E., & Oller, D. K. (2017). A retrospective video analysis of canonical babbling and volubility in infants with Fragile X syndrome at 9–12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(4), 1193-1206. Show abstractHide abstract

An infant’s vocal capacity develops significantly during the first year of life. Research suggests early measures of pre-speech development, such as canonical babbling and volubility, can differentiate typical versus disordered development. This study offers a new contribution by comparing early vocal development in 10 infants with Fragile X syndrome and 14 with typical development. Results suggest infants with Fragile X syndrome produce fewer syllables and have significantly lower canonical babbling ratios compared to infants who are typically developing. Furthermore, the particular measures of babbling were strong predictors of group membership, adding evidence regarding the possible utility of these markers in early identification.

Zhang, W., Mason, A. E., Boyd, B., Sikich, L., & Baranek, G. T. (2017). A rural-urban comparison in emergency department visits for U.S. children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(3), 590-598. Show abstractHide abstract

We examined rural-urban differences in emergency department visits, and child and clinical characteristics associated with visits for U.S. children aged 3-17 years with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Rural children with ASD were twice more likely to have emergency department visits in urban hospitals than rural children without ASD. The children with ASD in rural areas were economically disadvantaged and concentrated in the South and Midwest regions. Rural children diagnosed with ASD and multiple comorbidities during emergency department visits were 1.6 times as that of urban children. Rural children with ASD, particularly those with multiple comorbidities, require more emergency department services when compared with urban children with ASD.

Kirby, A. V., Boyd, B. A., Williams, K. L., Faldowski, R. A., & Baranek, G. T. (2017). Sensory and repetitive behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder at home. Autism, 21(2), 142-154. Show abstractHide abstract

Atypical sensory and repetitive behaviors are defining features of autism spectrum disorder and are thought to be influenced by environmental factors; however, there is a lack of naturalistic research exploring contexts surrounding these behaviors. This study involved video recording observations of 32 children with autism spectrum disorder (2-12 years of age) engaging in sensory and repetitive behaviors during home activities. Behavioral coding was used to determine what activity contexts, sensory modalities, and stimulus characteristics were associated with specific behavior types: hyperresponsive, hyporesponsive, sensory seeking, and repetitive/stereotypic. Results indicated that hyperresponsive behaviors were most associated with activities of daily living and family-initiated stimuli, whereas sensory seeking behaviors were associated with free play activities and child-initiated stimuli. Behaviors associated with multiple sensory modalities simultaneously were common, emphasizing the multi-sensory nature of children's behaviors in natural contexts. Implications for future research more explicitly considering context are discussed.

Kinard, J. L., Sideris, J., Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., Wakeford, L., & Turner-Brown, L. (2017). Predictors of parent responsiveness to 1-year-olds at-risk for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(1), 172-186. Show abstractHide abstract

Parent responsiveness is critical for child development of cognition, social-communication, and self-regulation. Parents tend to respond more frequently when children at-risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate stronger social-communication; however, it is unclear how responsiveness is associated with sensory characteristics of children at-risk for ASD. To address this issue, we examined the extent to which child social-communication and sensory reactivity patterns (i.e., hyper- and hypo-reactivity) predicted parent responsiveness to 1-year-olds at-risk for ASD in a community sample of 97 parent-infant pairs. A combination of child social-communication and sensory hypo-reactivity consistently predicted how parents played and talked with their 1-year-old at-risk for ASD. Parents tended to talk less and use more play actions when infants communicated less and demonstrated stronger hypo-reactivity.


Journal Articles

Ausderau, K. K., Sideris, J., Little, L. M., Furlong, M., Bulluck, J. C., & Baranek, G. T. (2016). Sensory subtypes and associated outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 9(12), 1316-1327. Show abstractHide abstract

Sensory features are prevalent and heterogeneous across children with ASD and these features have been associated with child outcomes. Identification of clinically defined sensory subtypes may enhance our understanding of unique phenotypes that have implications for etiology, prognosis, and intervention. This longitudinal study used a national online survey aimed to identify associations of previously validated sensory subtypes to specific child and family characteristics and functional outcomes [Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-II (VABS) and Parenting Stress Index short form (PSI)]. The sensory experiences questionnaire-3.0 was collected from caregivers with children with ASD, ages 2-12, at two time points (Time 1, n = 1307, Time 2, n = 884), 1 year apart. Functional outcomes assessments were collected at the second time point. A latent profile transition analysis (LPTA) was used to test associations, and results indicated that the attenuated-preoccupied subtype presented with the significantly lowest levels of VABS adaptive behavior composite scores compared to the other three sensory subtypes. Both the VABS maladaptive behavior index and the total PSI score were significantly highest in the extreme-mixed subtype. These results underscore the clinical utility of this subtyping approach for differentiating characteristics and functional outcomes associated with clinically defined sensory phenotypes. These findings may have implications for better understanding etiology, prognosis, and more precise targets for interventions designed to ameliorate sensory difficulties, and ultimately mitigate negative developmental consequences and parenting stress.

Cascio, C. J., Woynaroski, T., Baranek, G. T., & Wallace, M. T. (2016). Toward an interdisciplinary approach to understanding sensory function in autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 9(9), 920-925. Show abstractHide abstract

Heightened interest in sensory function in persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) presents an unprecedented opportunity for impactful, interdisciplinary work between neuroscientists and clinical practitioners for whom sensory processing is a focus. In spite of this promise, and a number of overlapping perspectives on sensory function in persons with ASD, neuroscientists and clinical practitioners are faced with significant practical barriers to transcending disciplinary silos. These barriers include divergent goals, values, and approaches that shape each discipline, as well as different lexical conventions. This commentary is itself an interdisciplinary effort to describe the shared perspectives, and to conceptualize a framework that may guide future investigation in this area. We summarize progress to date and issue a call for clinical practitioners and neuroscientists to expand cross-disciplinary dialogue and to capitalize on the complementary strengths of each field to unveil the links between neural and behavioral manifestations of sensory differences in persons with ASD. Joining forces to face these challenges in a truly interdisciplinary way will lead to more clinically informed neuroscientific investigation of sensory function, and better translation of those findings to clinical practice. Likewise, a more coordinated effort may shed light not only on how current approaches to treating sensory processing differences affect brain and behavioral responses to sensory stimuli in individuals with ASD, but also on whether such approaches translate to gains in broader characteristics associated with ASD. It is our hope that such interdisciplinary undertakings will ultimately converge to improve assessment and interventions for persons with ASD.

Zhang, W., & Baranek, G. T. (2016). The impact of insurance coverage types on access to and utilization of health services for U.S. children with autism. Psychiatric Services, 67(8), 908-911. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. The study examined the association of insurance type with access to and utilization of essential health services among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Methods. Multivariate logistic regressions were used to illustrate the relationship between the indicators of health services utilization and insurance coverage types among U.S. children with ASD (N=2,041). Analyses used secondary data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health.
Results. Privately insured children with ASD were significantly less likely than their publicly insured counterparts to receive therapy (OR=.49). The odds of having any out-of-pocket medical expenses for families with private insurance were 11.0 times greater than for families with public insurance.
Conclusions. The findings reflect current gaps between public and private insurance coverage in the health system for access to and utilization of health services for children with ASD. Special attention should be directed to private insurance plans, where needed health services may be inadequately covered.

Kirby, A. V., Little, L. M., Schultz, B., Watson, L. R., Zhang, W., & Baranek, G. T. (2016). Development and pilot of the Caregiver Strategies Inventory. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70(4), 7004360010p1-6. Show abstractHide abstract

Children with autism spectrum disorder often demonstrate unusual behavioral responses to sensory stimuli (i.e., sensory features). To manage everyday activities, caregivers may implement strategies to address these features during family routines. However, investigation of specific strategies used by caregivers is limited by the lack of empirically developed measures. In this study, we describe the development and pilot results of the Caregiver Strategies Inventory (CSI), a supplement to the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire Version 3.0 (SEQ 3.0; Baranek, 2009) that measures caregivers' strategies in response to their children's sensory features. Three conceptually derived and empirically grounded strategy types were tested: cognitive-behavioral, sensory-perceptual, and avoidance. Results indicated that the CSI demonstrated good internal consistency and that strategy use was related to child age and cognition. Moreover, parent feedback after completing the CSI supported its utility and social validity. The CSI may be used alongside the SEQ 3.0 to facilitate a family-centered approach to assessment and intervention planning.

Cascio, C. J., Lorenzi, J., & Baranek, G. T. (2016). Self-reported pleasantness ratings and examiner-coded defensiveness in response to touch in children with ASD: Effects of stimulus material and bodily location. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(5), 1528-1537. Show abstractHide abstract

Tactile defensiveness, characterized by behavioral hyperresponsiveness and negative emotional responses to touch, is a common manifestation of aberrant sensory processing in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD). Variations in tactile defensiveness with the properties of the stimulus and the bodily site of stimulation have been addressed in adults with self-report of perceived tactile pleasantness, but not in children. We presented three materials (pleasant, unpleasant, social) at three bodily sites and measured both examiner-coded defensiveness and self-reported pleasantness from a group of children with ASD and two comparison groups (one with DD, one with typical development (TD)). The main findings were: (1) children with ASD and DD showed significantly more defensiveness reactions and lower pleasantness ratings than the TD group, with higher variability, (2) there was a double dissociation for the effects of material and bodily site of stimulation: while bodily site predicted behavioral defensiveness, material predicted pleasantness rating. Additionally, it was noted that (3) the most pleasant material and the social touch conditions best distinguished ASD and DD from TD on defensiveness, and (4) within the ASD group, social impairment and defensiveness in bodily sites associated with social touch were positively correlated, suggesting a clinically relevant distinction between social and discriminative touch in ASD.

Sabatos-DeVito, M., Schipul, S. E., Bulluck, J. C., Belger, A., & Baranek, G. T. (2016). Eye tracking reveals impaired attentional disengagement associated with sensory response patterns in children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(4), 1319-1333. Show abstractHide abstract

This study used a gap-overlap paradigm to examine the impact of distractor salience and temporal overlap on the ability to disengage and orient attention in 50 children (4-13 years) with ASD, DD and TD, and associations between attention and sensory response patterns. Results revealed impaired disengagement and orienting accuracy in ASD. Disengagement was impaired across all groups during temporal overlap for dynamic stimuli compared to static, but only ASD showed slower disengagement from multimodal relative to unimodal dynamic stimuli. Attentional disengagement had differential associations with distinct sensory response patterns in ASD and DD. Atypical sensory processing and temporal binding appear to be intertwined with development of disengagement in ASD, but longitudinal studies are needed to unravel causal pathways.

Kirby, A. V., Baranek, G. T., & Fox, L. (2016). Longitudinal predictors of outcomes for adults with autism spectrum disorder: Systematic review. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 36(2), 55-64. Show abstractHide abstract

To generate an evidence-based understanding of longitudinal predictors of social outcomes (i.e., employment, social relationships/participation, independent living) of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we conducted a systematic literature review of publications since 2000. Twelve publications deriving from eight study samples fit inclusion/exclusion criteria for the review. In these publications, statistically significant predictors of social outcomes fell into five categories: (a) personal characteristics, (b) individual functioning, (c) family context, (d) services, and (e) other factors (i.e., peer influence, health status). However, only two studies demonstrated high methodological quality, and only one category of predictors-individual functioning-was identified across multiple study samples. To inform practices for youth with ASD, there remains a need for high-quality outcome research related to adults with ASD to better understand predictors, especially related to environmental factors such as related to the family and services received.


Journal Articles

Little, L. M., Ausderau, K., Sideris, J., & Baranek, G. T. (2015). Activity participation and sensory features among children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(9), 2981-2990. Show abstractHide abstract

Sensory features are highly prevalent among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and have been shown to cluster into four patterns of response, including hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, enhanced perception, and sensory interests, repetitions and seeking behaviors. Given the lack of large-scale research on the differential effects of sensory response patterns on children's participation in specific activities, this study investigated the extent to which sensory response patterns impacted six dimensions of children's activity participation as measured by the Home and Community Activities Scale among a large, national sample of school aged children with ASD (n = 674). Using mixed model regression, results showed that sensory response patterns differentially impacted dimensions of activity participation, and associations were moderated by a number of child characteristics.

Dykstra Steinbrenner, J. R., Watson, L. R., Boyd, B. A., Wilson, K. P., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Flippin, M., & Flagler, S. (2015). Developing feasible and effective school-based interventions for children with ASD: A case study of the iterative development process. Journal of Early Intervention, 37(1), 23-43. Show abstractHide abstract

Despite an emphasis on identifying evidence-based practices among researchers and using evidence-based practices among professionals in the field of education, there are still problems with uptake and implementation in real-world settings. This lack of diffusion of practices is evident in educational programming for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). One solution is to use an iterative process to develop interventions in which researchers work in collaboration with the end users to test and refine interventions. However, there are very few guidelines for developing feasible and effective interventions through these iterative processes. This article provides a description of the iterative process used to develop the Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP) intervention, a supplemental program designed for public preschool classrooms serving students with ASD, and examples of how data from the sequence of iterative design studies shaped the intervention development. The research team offers guidelines for other researchers looking to engage in intervention development using an iterative process in the context of partnerships with end users, including suggestions for planning and executing an intervention development grant.

Kirby, A. V., Little, L. M., Schultz, B., & Baranek, G. T. (2015). Observational characterization of sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 69(3), 6903220010p1-9. Show abstractHide abstract

Sensory interests, repetitions, and seeking behaviors (SIRS) are common among children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD) and involve unusual actions that intensify or reinforce a sensory experience. Researchers and practitioners typically use parent-report measures or informal clinical observations to understand the presence and nature of SIRS. In this study, we used a scoring supplement to the Sensory Processing Assessment for Young Children, an observational measure, to characterize SIRS across three groups of children — those with ASD (n=40), DD (n=37), and typical development (n=39). Group differences were identified in frequency and intensity of overall SIRS, complexity of SIRS, and incidence of particular types of SIRS (i.e., posturing, sighting, proprioceptive seeking, spinning). Facial affect was also explored and found to be primarily neutral during engagement in SIRS across groups. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Kirby, A. V., Dickie, V. A., & Baranek, G. T. (2015). Sensory experiences of children with autism spectrum disorder: In their own words. Autism, 19(3), 316-326. Show abstractHide abstract

First-person perspectives of children with autism spectrum disorder are rarely included in research, yet their voices may help more clearly illuminate their needs. This study involved phenomenological interviews with children with autism spectrum disorder (n = 12, ages 4-13) used to gain insights about their sensory experiences. This article addresses two study aims: determining the feasibility of interviewing children with autism spectrum disorder and exploring how they share information about their sensory experiences during the qualitative interview process. With the described methods, children as young as 4 years old and across a broad range of autism severity scores successfully participated in the interviews. The manner with which children shared information about their sensory experiences included themes of normalizing, storytelling, and describing responses. The interviews also revealed the importance of context and the multisensory nature of children's experiences. These findings contribute strategies for understanding the sensory experiences of children with autism spectrum disorder with implications for practice and future research.

Donkers, F. C., Schipul, S. E., Baranek, G. T., Cleary, K. M., Willoughby, M. T., Evans, A. M., Bulluck, J. C., Lovmo, J. E., & Belger, A. (2015). Attenuated auditory event-related potentials and associations with atypical sensory response patterns in children with autism. Autism, 45(2), 506-523. Show abstractHide abstract

Neurobiological underpinnings of unusual sensory features in individuals with autism are unknown. Event-related potentials elicited by task-irrelevant sounds were used to elucidate neural correlates of auditory processing and associations with three common sensory response patterns (hyperresponsiveness; hyporesponsiveness; sensory seeking). Twenty-eight children with autism and 39 typically developing children (4-12 year-olds) completed an auditory oddball paradigm. Results revealed marginally attenuated P1 and N2 to standard tones and attenuated P3a to novel sounds in autism versus controls. Exploratory analyses suggested that within the autism group, attenuated N2 and P3a amplitudes were associated with greater sensory seeking behaviors for specific ranges of P1 responses. Findings suggest that attenuated early sensory as well as later attention-orienting neural responses to stimuli may underlie selective sensory features via complex mechanisms.

Kirby, A. V., White, T. J., & Baranek, G. T. (2015). Caregiver strain and sensory features in children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 120(1), 32-45. Show abstractHide abstract

Caring for children with disabilities contributes to increased levels of parent stress or caregiver strain. However, the potential relationship of sensory features to strain among caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD) is unknown. Sensory features include overreactions, underreactions, and unusual interests in sensations, which may negatively impact family functioning. This descriptive study confirmed three caregiver strain types (i.e., objective, subjective internalized, subjective externalized) and explored differences among ASD (n = 71) and DD (n = 36) groups, with the ASD group reporting higher levels. Furthermore, this study explored the contribution of sensory features to caregiver strain, finding differential contributions to strain in the ASD group and covariate contributions (i.e., child cognition, mother's education) in the DD group.

Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., Turner-Brown, L., Field, S. H., Crais, E. R., Wakeford, L., Little, L. M., & Reznick, J. S. (2015). Preliminary efficacy of adapted responsive teaching for infants at risk of autism spectrum disorder in a community sample. Autism Research and Treatment, 2015(386951), 1-16. Show abstractHide abstract

This study examined the (a) feasibility of enrolling 12-month-olds at risk of ASD from a community sample into a randomized controlled trial, (b) subsequent utilization of community services, and (c) potential of a novel parent-mediated intervention to improve outcomes. The First Year Inventory was used to screen and recruit 12-month-old infants at risk of ASD to compare the effects of 6-9 months of Adapted Responsive Teaching (ART) versus referral to early intervention and monitoring (REIM). Eighteen families were followed for ~20 months. Assessments were conducted before randomization, after treatment, and at 6-month follow-up. Utilization of community services was highest for the REIM group. ART significantly outperformed REIM on parent-reported and observed measures of child receptive language with good linear model fit. Multiphase growth models had better fit for more variables, showing the greatest effects in the active treatment phase, where ART outperformed REIM on parental interactive style (less directive), child sensory responsiveness (less hyporesponsive), and adaptive behavior (increased communication and socialization). This study demonstrates the promise of a parent-mediated intervention for improving developmental outcomes for infants at risk of ASD in a community sample and highlights the utility of earlier identification for access to community services earlier than standard practice.


Book Chapters

Baranek, G. T., Little, L. M., Parham, L. D., Ausderau, K. K., & Sabatos-DeVito, M. G. (2014). Sensory features in Autism Spectrum Disorders. In F. R. Volkmar, S. J. Rogers, R. Paul, & K. A. Pelphrey (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders: Vol. 2: Assessment, interventions and policy (4th ed., pp. 378-408). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. Full text

Journal Articles

Patten, E., Watson, L. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2014). Temporal synchrony detection and associations with language in young children with ASD. Autism Research and Treatment, 2014(678346), 1-8. Show abstractHide abstract

Temporally synchronous audio-visual stimuli serve to recruit attention and enhance learning, including language learning in infants. Although few studies have examined this effect on children with autism, it appears that the ability to detect temporal synchrony between auditory and visual stimuli may be impaired, particularly given social-linguistic stimuli delivered via oral movement and spoken language pairings. However, children with autism can detect audio-visual synchrony given nonsocial stimuli (objects dropping and their corresponding sounds). We tested whether preschool children with autism could detect audio-visual synchrony given video recordings of linguistic stimuli paired with movement of related toys in the absence of faces. As a group, children with autism demonstrated the ability to detect audio-visual synchrony. Further, the amount of time they attended to the synchronous condition was positively correlated with receptive language. Findings suggest that object manipulations may enhance multisensory processing in linguistic contexts. Moreover, associations between synchrony detection and language development suggest that better processing of multisensory stimuli may guide and direct attention to communicative events thus enhancing linguistic development.

Patten, E., Belardi, K., Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., Labban, J. D., & Oller, D. K. (2014). Vocal patterns in infants with autism spectrum disorder: Canonical babbling status and vocalization frequency. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(10), 2413-2428. Show abstractHide abstract

Canonical babbling is a critical milestone for speech development and is usually well in place by 10 months. The possibility that infants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show late onset of canonical babbling has so far eluded evaluation. Rate of vocalization or "volubility" has also been suggested as possibly aberrant in infants with ASD. We conducted a retrospective video study examining vocalizations of 37 infants at 9-12 and 15-18 months. Twenty-three of the 37 infants were later diagnosed with ASD and indeed produced low rates of canonical babbling and low volubility by comparison with the 14 typically developing infants. The study thus supports suggestions that very early vocal patterns may prove to be a useful component of early screening and diagnosis of ASD.

Crais, E. R., McComish, C. S., Humphreys, B. P., Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Reznick, J. S., Christian, R. B., & Earls, M. (2014). Pediatric healthcare professionals' views on autism spectrum disorder screening at 12-18 months. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(9), 2311-2328. Show abstractHide abstract

This study explored North Carolina pediatric healthcare professionals' (PHP) perceptions of screening 12-18 month old infants for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Eight focus groups (66 PHPs) were conducted across practice settings. The purpose was to explore PHPs' perspectives to: inform development of ASD screening tools and ultimately impact their use in PHP settings. PHPs reported concerns, barriers, and the need for research to support early ASD screening. Additionally, they expressed the need for: (a) clear "red flags" of ASD for 12-18 month olds; (b) socioculturally sensitive and effective screening tools; (c) effective early interventions; (d) systems to handle potential increases in referrals; and (e) continuing education. PHPs also demonstrated preferences about screening tool characteristics and processes for enhancing screening efforts.

Ausderau, K. K., Furlong, M., Sideris, J., Bulluck, J., Little, L. M., Watson, L. R., Boyd, B. A., Belger, A., Dickie, V. A., & Baranek, G. T. (2014). Sensory subtypes in children with autism spectrum disorder: Latent profile transition analysis using a national survey of sensory features. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 55(8), 935-944. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. Sensory features are highly prevalent and heterogeneous among children with ASD. There is a need to identify homogenous groups of children with ASD based on sensory features (i.e., sensory subtypes) to inform research and treatment.
Methods. Sensory subtypes and their stability over 1 year were identified through latent profile transition analysis (LPTA) among a national sample of children with ASD. Data were collected from caregivers of children with ASD ages 2-12 years at two time points (Time 1 N = 1294; Time 2 N = 884).
Results. Four sensory subtypes (Mild; Sensitive-Distressed; Attenuated-Preoccupied; Extreme-Mixed) were identified, which were supported by fit indices from the LPTA as well as current theoretical models that inform clinical practice. The Mild and Extreme-Mixed subtypes reflected quantitatively different sensory profiles, while the Sensitive-Distressed and Attenuated-Preoccupied subtypes reflected qualitatively different profiles. Further, subtypes reflected differential child (i.e., gender, developmental age, chronological age, autism severity) and family (i.e., income, mother's education) characteristics. Ninety-one percent of participants remained stable in their subtypes over 1 year.
Conclusions. Characterizing the nature of homogenous sensory subtypes may facilitate assessment and intervention, as well as potentially inform biological mechanisms.

Freuler, A. C., Baranek, G. T., Tashjian, C., Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., & Turner-Brown, L. M. (2014). Parent reflections of experiences of participating in a randomized controlled trial of a behavioral intervention for infants at risk of autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 18(5), 519-528. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. Despite the mounting evidence of efficacy of early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders, there is little research that considers the various perceptions and resources with which parents respond to the pressures and opportunities associated with participation in early intervention. Research is particularly lacking surrounding experiences of parents with infants who are at risk of autism spectrum disorders but do not (yet) have a diagnosed condition.
Objectives. This qualitative study aimed to explore the experiences of caregivers following their participation in a randomized controlled trial of Adapted Responsive Teaching, a parent-infant relationship-focused intervention for infants at risk of autism spectrum disorders in a community sample. Parents were randomized into either the treatment group, in which they participated in the Adapted Responsive Teaching intervention, or the community services group, in which they were provided with information regarding local early intervention services and were encouraged, but not required to, seek community services as part of their inclusion in the randomized controlled trial.
Methods. Semistructured interviews were conducted with families following the completion of the randomized controlled trial. Participants consisted of 13 mothers and 4 fathers. Five dyads were interviewed together for a total of 14 families. Child ages ranged from 39 to 46 months at the time of interview. Analysis was conducted on 14 interviews from 10 families who were randomized into the treatment group and 4 families randomized into the community services group. Analysis was informed by a thematic analysis approach, which involved a systematic process of coding and theme identification both across and within groups.
Results. Themes that emerged across groups included Working against all odds, Value of the personal relationship, Getting the ball rolling, and Getting dad on board. One broad theme represented the data within the groups: Win-win (Adapted Responsive Teaching group) and Navigating amidst ambiguity (community services group).
Conclusions. This study illuminates the personal experiences and contextual influences affecting families who are participating in the randomized controlled trial through early identification of "risk" status for autism spectrum disorders in their infants. Insights gained from these interviews may serve to refine and enhance intervention models and to enhance early intervention services for families.

Ausderau, K., Sideris, J., Furlong, M., Little, L. M., Bulluck, J., & Baranek, G. T. (2014). National survey of sensory features in children with ASD: Factor structure of the sensory experience questionnaire (3.0). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(4), 915-925. Show abstractHide abstract

This national online survey study characterized sensory features in 1,307 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) ages 2-12 years using the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire Version 3.0 (SEQ-3.0). Using the SEQ-3.0, a confirmatory factor analytic model with four substantive factors of hypothesized sensory response patterns (i.e., hyporesponsiveness; hyperresponsiveness; sensory interests, repetitions and seeking behaviors; enhanced perception), five method factors of sensory modalities (i.e., auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory/olfactory, vestibular/proprioceptive), and one of social context were tested with good model fit. Child and family characteristics associated with the sensory response patterns were explored. The effect of sensory response patterns on autism severity was tested, controlling for key child and family characteristics. The SEQ-3.0 demonstrates an empirically valid factor structure specific to ASD that considers sensory response patterns, modalities, and social context.

Little, L. M., Sideris, J., Ausderau, K., & Baranek, G. T. (2014). Activity participation among children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(2), 177-185. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. The purpose of this study was to empirically derive dimensions of activity participation among a sample of school-age children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n = 713). Additionally, we examined the associations between dimensions of activity participation and child characteristics (i.e., chronological age, autism severity, gender) and family demographics (i.e., maternal education).
Methods. Exploratory factor analysis was used to determine the factors on the Home and Community Activities Scale (HCAS). Multiple regression was used to examine the extent to which child characteristics and family demographics were related to HCAS dimensions.
Results. A six-factor model best characterized activity participation among the school-age children with ASD, and child characteristics and family demographics were differentially associated with HCAS dimensions.
Conclusion. The findings have implications for how activities may be categorized for children with ASD and suggest that the frequency of specific activities is affected by child characteristics and maternal education.


Journal Articles

Turner-Brown, L. M., Baranek, G. T., Reznick, J. S., Watson, L. R., & Crais, E. R. (2013). The First Year Inventory: A longitudinal follow-up of 12-month-old to 3-year-old children. Autism, 17(5), 527-540. Show abstractHide abstract

The First Year Inventory is a parent-report measure designed to identify 12-month-old infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder. First Year Inventory taps behaviors that indicate risk in the developmental domains of sensory-regulatory and social-communication functioning. This longitudinal study is a follow-up of 699 children at 3 years of age from a community sample whose parents completed the First Year Inventory when their children were 12 months old. Parents of all 699 children completed the Social Responsiveness Scale-Preschool version and the Developmental Concerns Questionnaire to determine age 3 developmental outcomes. In addition, children deemed at risk for autism spectrum disorder based on liberal cut points on the First Year Inventory, Social Responsiveness Scale-Preschool, and/or Developmental Concerns Questionnaire were invited for in-person diagnostic evaluations. We found 9 children who had a confirmed diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder from the sample of 699. Receiver operating characteristic analyses determined that a two-domain cutoff score yielded optimal classification of children: 31% of those meeting algorithm cutoffs had autism spectrum disorder and 85% had a developmental disability or concern by age 3. These results suggest that the First Year Inventory is a promising tool for identifying 12-month-old infants who are at risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Patten, E., Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., & Schultz, B. (2013). Child and family characteristics influencing intervention choices in autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 28(3), 138-146. Show abstractHide abstract

A myriad of treatment options are available for children with autism, yet little is understood regarding characteristics of parents (e.g., education) and children (e.g., severity of autism symptoms) that influence types and amounts of therapy utilization. Interviews from 70 families were analyzed to determine potential influences on utilization (e.g., start of first services, use of traditional services). Descriptive findings regarding therapy types were similar to national studies. However, only three of the variables predicted utilization of specific therapies: severity of sensory processing problems was associated with earlier initiation of services in general, and higher maternal and paternal education was associated with the use of dietary and/or vitamin therapy as well as with more types of services. No other variables had predictive value; thus, the amount and type of therapies received may be more related to diagnostic practices and/or to the affordances/constraints of service delivery and reimbursement systems at particular ages.

Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., Boyd, B. A., Poe, M. D., David, F. J., & McGuire, L. (2013). Hyporesponsiveness to social and nonsocial sensory stimuli in children with autism, children with developmental delays, and typically developing children. Development and Psychopathology, 25(2), 307-320. Show abstractHide abstract

This cross-sectional study seeks to (a) describe developmental correlates of sensory hyporesponsiveness to social and nonsocial stimuli, (b) determine whether hyporesponsiveness is generalized across contexts in children with autism relative to controls, and (c) test the associations between hyporesponsiveness and social communication outcomes. Three groups of children ages 11-105 months (N = 178; autism = 63, developmental delay = 47, typical development = 68) are given developmental and sensory measures including a behavioral orienting task (the Sensory Processing Assessment). Lab measures are significantly correlated with parental reports of sensory hyporesponsiveness. Censored regression models show that hyporesponsiveness decreased across groups with increasing mental age (MA). Group differences are significant but depend upon two-way interactions with MA and context (social and nonsocial). At a very young MA (e.g., 6 months), the autism group demonstrates more hyporesponsiveness to social and nonsocial stimuli (with larger effects for social) than developmental delay and typically developing groups, but at an older MA (e.g., 60 months) there are no significant differences. Hyporesponsiveness to social and nonsocial stimuli predicts lower levels of joint attention and language in children with autism. Generalized processes in attention disengagement and behavioral orienting may have relevance for identifying early risk factors of autism and for facilitating learning across contexts to support the development of joint attention and language.

Roberts, J. E., Long, A. C., McCary, L. M., Quady, A. N., Rose, B. S., Widrick, D., & Baranek, G. T. (2013). Cardiovascular and behavioral response to auditory stimuli in boys with fragile x syndrome. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 38(3), 276-284. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. The aim of this study was to determine whether young boys with fragile X syndrome (FXS) exhibit abnormal physiological or behavioral responses to a moderately intense auditory stimulus, as heightened sensory reactivity is believed to contribute to problem behaviors in this population.
Methods. We examined the physiological basis, via heart activity, of auditory startle in young boys with FXS (n = 22) compared with typically developing controls (n = 27). Associations with mental age, behavioral reactivity, and chronological age were examined.
Results. Results suggest that older boys with FXS display increased cardiac reactivity to auditory input than younger boys with FXS that distinguishes them from typically developing controls. Higher mental age was associated with decreased latency to react.
Conclusions. Results contribute to increased understanding of the pathology in sensory processing in boys with FXS, which can inform refinement of the phenotype in young children with FXS and aid in the development of efficacious psychopharmacological and/or behavioral interventions.

Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Dykstra, J. R., & Wilson, K. P. (2013). Communicative gesture use in infants with and without autism: A retrospective home video study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 22(1), 25-39. Show abstractHide abstract

Purpose. The authors aimed to compare gesture use in infants with autism with gesture use in infants with other developmental disabilities (DD) or typical development (TD).
Method. Children with autism (n = 43), DD (n = 30), and TD (n = 36) were recruited at ages 2 to 7 years. Parents provided home videotapes of children in infancy. Staff compiled video samples for 2 age intervals (9-12 and 15-18 months) and coded samples for frequency of social interaction (SI), behavior regulation (BR), and joint attention (JA) gestures.
Results. At 9-12 months, infants with autism were less likely to use JA gestures than infants with DD or TD, and less likely to use BR gestures than infants with TD. At 15-18 months, infants with autism were less likely than infants with DD to use SI or JA gestures, and less likely than infants with TD to use BR, SI, or JA gestures. Among infants able to use gestures, infants with autism used fewer BR gestures than those with TD at 9-12 months, and fewer JA gestures than infants with DD or TD at 15-18 months.
Conclusion. Differences in gesture use in infancy have implications for early autism screening, assessment, and intervention.

Patten, E., Ausderau, K. K., Watson, L. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2013). Sensory response patterns in nonverbal children with ASD. Autism Research and Treatment, 2013(436286), 1-9. Show abstractHide abstract

We sought to examine concurrent and longitudinal associations between sensory response patterns (i.e., hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, and sensory seeking) and verbal status of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a potential factor influencing the development of verbal communication. Seventy-nine children with ASD (verbal, n = 29; nonverbal, n = 50) were assessed using cross-sectional analyses (Study 1), and 14 children with ASD (verbal, n = 6; nonverbal, n = 8) were assessed using prospective longitudinal analyses (Study 2). Data were collected regarding sensory response patterns and verbal ability. Hyporesponsiveness and sensory seeking behaviors were associated with verbal status in both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses; nonverbal children were more likely to demonstrate higher hyporesponsive and sensory seeking patterns. Hyperresponsiveness did not significantly differ between verbal and nonverbal groups in either design. Sensory hyporesponsiveness and seeking behaviors may be important factors hindering the development of functional verbal communication in children with ASD. Unusual sensory responsiveness can often be observed before the onset of speech and may yield important prognostic capabilities as well as inform early interventions targeting verbal communication or alternative communication options in young children with ASD.


Journal Articles

David, F. J., Baranek, G. T., Wiesen, C., Miao, A. F., & Thorpe, D. E. (2012). Coordination of precision grip in 2-6 years-old children with autism spectrum disorders compared to children developing typically and children with developmental disabilities. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6, 122. Show abstractHide abstract

Impaired motor coordination is prevalent in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and affects adaptive skills. Little is known about the development of motor patterns in young children with ASD between 2 and 6 years of age. The purpose of the current study was threefold: (1) to describe developmental correlates of motor coordination in children with ASD, (2) to identify the extent to which motor coordination deficits are unique to ASD by using a control group of children with other developmental disabilities (DD), and (3) to determine the association between motor coordination variables and functional fine motor skills. Twenty-four children with ASD were compared to 30 children with typical development (TD) and 11 children with DD. A precision grip task was used to quantify and analyze motor coordination. The motor coordination variables were two temporal variables (grip to load force onset latency and time to peak grip force) and two force variables (grip force at onset of load force and peak grip force). Functional motor skills were assessed using the Fine Motor Age Equivalents of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale and the Mullen Scales of Early Learning. Mixed regression models were used for all analyses. Children with ASD presented with significant motor coordination deficits only on the two temporal variables, and these variables differentiated children with ASD from the children with TD, but not from children with DD. Fine motor functional skills had no statistically significant associations with any of the motor coordination variables. These findings suggest that subtle problems in the timing of motor actions, possibly related to maturational delays in anticipatory feed-forward mechanisms, may underlie some motor deficits reported in children with ASD, but that these issues are not unique to this population. Further research is needed to investigate how children with ASD or DD compensate for motor control deficits to establish functional skills.

Siller, M., Morgan, L., Turner-Brown, L., Baggett, K. M., Baranek, G. T., Brian, J., Bryson, S. E., Carter, A. S., Crais, E. R., Estes, A., Kasari, C., Landa, R. J., & Lord, C. (2012). Designing studies to evaluate parent-mediated interventions for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Early Intervention, 35(4), 355-377. Show abstractHide abstract

Given recent advances in science, policy, and practice of early identification in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), questions about the effectiveness of early intervention have far-reaching service and policy implications. However, rigorous research evaluating the efficacy and effectiveness of intervention programs for toddlers with ASD faces a multitude of novel scientific challenges. The Autism Speaks Toddler Treatment Network (ASTTN) was formed in 2007 to provide an infrastructure for ongoing communication between the investigators of eight research projects evaluating parent-mediated interventions for toddlers with ASD. The present article describes and compares the research studies of the ASTTN; highlights specific challenges with regard to research design, participants, recruitment, eligibility criteria, enrollment, and intervention approach; and outlines practical considerations that may guide the next generation of parent-mediated intervention studies involving toddlers with ASD.

Brock, M. E., Freuler, A., Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., Poe, M. D., & Sabatino, A. (2012). Temperament and sensory features of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(11), 2271-2284. Show abstractHide abstract

This study sought to characterize temperament traits in a sample of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ages 3-7 years old, and to determine the potential association between temperament and sensory features in ASD. Individual differences in sensory processing may form the basis for aspects of temperament and personality, and aberrations in sensory processing may inform why some temperamental traits are characteristic of specific clinical populations. Nine dimensions of temperament from the Behavioral Style Questionnaire (McDevitt and Carey in Manual for the behavioral style questionnaire, Behavioral-Developmental Initiatives, Scottsdale, AZ, 1996) were compared among groups of children with ASD (n = 54), developmentally delayed (DD; n = 33), and the original normative sample of typically developing children (McDevitt and Carey in J Child Psychol Psychiatr 19(3):245-253, 1978; n = 350) using an ANOVA to determine the extent to which groups differed in their temperament profiles. The hypothesized overlap between three sensory constructs (hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, and seeking) and the nine dimensions of temperament was analyzed in children with ASD using regression analyses. The ASD group displayed temperament scores distinct from norms for typically developing children on most dimensions of temperament (activity, rhythmicity, adaptability, approach, distractibility, intensity, persistence, and threshold) but differed from the DD group on only two dimensions (approach and distractibility). Analyses of associations between sensory constructs and temperament dimensions found that sensory hyporesponsiveness was associated with slowness to adapt, low reactivity, and low distractibility; a combination of increased sensory features (across all three patterns) was associated with increased withdrawal and more negative mood. Although most dimensions of temperament distinguished children with ASD as a group, not all dimensions appear equally associated with sensory response patterns. Shared mechanisms underlying sensory responsiveness, temperament, and social withdrawal may be fruitful to explore in future studies.

Freuler, A., Baranek, G. T., Watson, L. R., Boyd, B. A., & Bulluck, J. C. (2012). Precursors and trajectories of sensory features: Qualitative analysis of infant home videos. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(5), e81-84. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. This study explored precursors and trajectories of extreme sensory patterns in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) compared with children with developmental delay (DD).
Method. We conducted a retrospective analysis of home videos of 12 infants who later displayed extreme presence or absence of three sensory patterns at preschool and school age.
Results. In ASD, hyporesponsiveness was most evident in infancy, followed by sensory repetitions. Hyporesponsiveness appeared stable over time and also was a precursor of sensory seeking. Infants with DD had few sensory precursors.
Conclusion. Precursors of extreme sensory features emerge early in children with ASD and appear relatively stable over time for a pattern of hyporesponsiveness but less stable for patterns of hyperresponsiveness and sensory seeking. These findings highlight the emergent nature of sensory features that may inform early identification and intervention.

Watson, L. R., Roberts, J. E., Baranek, G. T., Mandulak, K. C., & Dalton, J. C. (2012). Behavioral and physiological responses to child-directed speech of children with autism spectrum disorders or typical development. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(8), 1616-1629. Show abstractHide abstract

Young boys with autism were compared to typically developing boys on responses to nonsocial and child-directed speech (CDS) stimuli. Behavioral (looking) and physiological (heart rate and respiratory sinus arrhythmia) measures were collected. Boys with autism looked equally as much as chronological age-matched peers at nonsocial stimuli, but less at CDS stimuli. Boys with autism and language age-matched peers differed in patterns of looking at live versus videotaped CDS stimuli. Boys with autism demonstrated faster heart rates than chronological age-matched peers, but did not differ significantly on respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Reduced attention during CDS may restrict language-learning opportunities for children with autism. The heart rate findings suggest that young children with autism have a nonspecific elevated arousal level.

Cascio, C. J., Moana-Filho, E. J., Guest, S., Nebel, M. B., Weisner, J., Baranek, G. T., & Essick, G. K. (2012). Perceptual and neural response to affective tactile texture stimulation in adults with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 5(4), 231-244. Show abstractHide abstract

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are associated with differences in sensory sensitivity and affective response to sensory stimuli, the neural basis of which is still largely unknown. We used psychophysics and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate responses to somatosensory stimulation with three textured surfaces that spanned a range of roughness and pleasantness in a sample of adults with ASD and a control group. While psychophysical ratings of roughness and pleasantness were largely similar across the two groups, the ASD group gave pleasant and unpleasant textures more extreme average ratings than did controls. In addition, their ratings for a neutral texture were more variable than controls, indicating they are less consistent in evaluating a stimulus that is affectively ambiguous. Changes in brain blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal in response to stimulation with these textures differed substantially between the groups, with the ASD group exhibiting diminished responses compared to the control group, particularly for pleasant and neutral textures. For the most unpleasant texture, the ASD group exhibited greater BOLD response than controls in affective somatosensory processing areas such as the posterior cingulate cortex and the insula. The amplitude of response in the insula in response to the unpleasant texture was positively correlated with social impairment as measured by the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These results suggest that people with ASD tend to show diminished response to pleasant and neutral stimuli, and exaggerated limbic responses to unpleasant stimuli, which may contribute to diminished social reward associated with touch, perpetuating social withdrawal, and aberrant social development.

Poon, K. K., Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., & Poe, M. D. (2012). To what extent do joint attention, imitation, and object play behaviors in infancy predict later communication and intellectual functioning in ASD? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(6), 1064-1074. Show abstractHide abstract

The extent to which early social communication behaviors predict later communication and intellectual outcomes was investigated via retrospective video analysis. Joint attention, imitation, and complex object play behaviors were coded from edited home videos featuring scenes of 29 children with ASD at 9-12 and/or 15-18 months. A quantitative interval recording of behavior and a qualitative rating of the developmental level were applied. Social communication behaviors increased between 9-12 and 15-18 months. Their mean level during infancy, but not the rate of change, predicted both Vineland Communication scores and intellectual functioning at 3-7 years. The two methods of measurement yielded similar results. Thus, early social communicative behaviors may play pivotal roles in the development of subsequent communication and intellectual functioning.

Dykstra, J. R., Boyd, B. A., Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2012). The impact of the Advancing Social-communication And Play (ASAP) intervention on preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 16(1), 27-44. Show abstractHide abstract

This study evaluates an intervention targeting social-communication and play skills (Advancing Social-communication And Play; ASAP) implemented by school staff in a public preschool setting. With increases in enrollment of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in school systems, establishing the effectiveness and feasibility of interventions implemented in school settings is important. In clinical settings, interventions targeting social-communication and play behaviors have increased these skills and impacted later language abilities. Results of this single-case design study indicated the ASAP intervention had a positive impact on social-communication and play skills for three preschoolers with ASD. All participants showed either increases in frequency or more stability in targeted behaviors. Social validity results provide additional support for the use of ASAP with preschoolers with ASD.

Bagby, M. S., Dickie, V. A., & Baranek, G. T. (2012). How sensory experiences of children with and without autism affect family occupations. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66(1), 78-86. Show abstractHide abstract

We used a grounded theory approach to data analysis to discover what effect, if any, children's sensory experiences have on family occupations. We chose this approach because the existing literature does not provide a theory to account for the effect of children's sensory experiences on family occupations. Parents of six children who were typically developing and six children who had autism were interviewed. We analyzed the data using open, axial, and selective coding techniques. Children's sensory experiences affect family occupations in three ways: (1) what a family chooses to do and not to do; (2) how the family prepares; and (3) the extent to which experiences, meaning, and feelings are shared.


Book Chapters

Wakeford, L., & Baranek, G. T. (2011). Occupational therapy. In D. G. Amaral, G. Dawson, & D. H. Geschwind (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders (pp. 1113-1128). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Full text

Journal Articles

Watson, L. R., Patten, E., Baranek, G. T., Poe, M., Boyd, B. A., Freuler, A., & Lorenzi, J. (2011). Differential associations between sensory response patterns and language, social, and communication measures in children with autism or other developmental disabilities. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54(6), 1562-1576. Show abstractHide abstract

Purpose. To examine patterns of sensory responsiveness (i.e., hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, and sensory seeking) as factors that may account for variability in social-communicative symptoms of autism and variability in language, social, and communication skill development in children with autism or other developmental disabilities (DDs).
Method. Children with autistic disorder (AD; n = 72, mean age = 52.3 months) and other DDs (n = 44, mean age = 48.1 months) participated in a protocol measuring sensory response patterns; social-communicative symptoms of autism; and language, social, and communication skills.
Results. Hyporesponsiveness was positively associated with social-communicative symptom severity, with no significant group difference in the association. Hyperresponsiveness was not significantly associated with social-communicative symptom severity. A group difference emerged for sensory seeking and social-communicative symptom severity, with a positive association for the AD group only. For the 2 groups of children combined, hyporesponsiveness was negatively associated with language skills and social adaptive skills. Sensory seeking also was negatively associated with language skills. These associations did not differ between the 2 groups.
Conclusions. Aberrant sensory processing may play an important role in the pathogenesis of autism and other DDs as well as in the rate of acquisition of language, social, and communication skills.

Little, L. M., Freuler, A. C., Houser, M. B., Guckian, L., Carbine, K., David, F. J., & Baranek, G. T. (2011). Psychometric validation of the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(2), 207-210. Show abstractHide abstract

Introduction. We evaluated the psychometric properties of the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire (Version 1; Baranek, David, Poe, Stone, & Watson, 2006), a brief caregiver questionnaire for young children with autism and developmental delays used to identify sensory processing patterns in the context of daily activities.
Method. Caregiver questionnaires (N=358) were analyzed to determine internal consistency. The test-retest subsample (n=24) completed two assessments within 2-4 wk. Internal consistency and test-retest reliability were analyzed using Cronbach's coefficient alpha and intraclass correlation coefficients, respectively.
Results. Internal consistency for the SEQ was alpha = .80. Test-retest reliability for the total score was excellent, with ICC = .92.
Discussion. The SEQ is an internally consistent and reliable caregiver report measure of young children's sensory processing patterns of hypo- and hyperresponsiveness. The SEQ can be used as an early tool for identifying sensory patterns in young children with autism and other developmental disabilities.


Journal Articles

Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Roberts, J. E., David, F. J., & Perryman, T. Y. (2010). Behavioral and physiological responses to child-directed speech as predictors of communication outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 53(4), 1052-1064. Show abstractHide abstract

Purpose. To determine the extent to which behavioral and physiological responses during child-directed speech (CDS) correlate concurrently and predictively with communication skills in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Method. Twenty-two boys with ASD (initial mean age: 35 months) participated in a longitudinal study. At entry, behavioral (i.e., percentage looking) and physiological (i.e., vagal activity) measures were collected during the presentation of CDS stimuli. A battery of standardized communication measures was administered at entry and readministered 12 months later.
Results. Percentage looking during CDS was strongly correlated with all entry and follow-up communication scores; vagal activity during CDS was moderately to strongly correlated with entry receptive language, follow-up expressive language, and social-communicative adaptive skills. After controlling for entry communication skills, vagal activity during CDS accounted for significant variance in follow-up communication skills, but percentage looking during CDS did not.
Conclusions. Behavioral and physiological responses to CDS are significantly related to concurrent and later communication skills of children with ASD. Furthermore, higher vagal activity during CDS predicts better communication outcomes 12 months later, after initial communication skills are accounted for. Further research is needed to better understand the physiological mechanisms underlying variable responses to CDS among children with ASD.

Boyd, B. A., Baranek, G. T., Sideris, J., Poe, M. D., Watson, L. R., Patten, E., & Miller, H. (2010). Sensory features and repetitive behaviors in children with autism and developmental delays. Autism Research, 3(2), 78-87. Show abstractHide abstract

This study combined parent and observational measures to examine the association between aberrant sensory features and restricted, repetitive behaviors in children with autism (N=67) and those with developmental delays (N=42). Confirmatory factor analysis was used to empirically validate three sensory constructs of interest: hyperresponsiveness, hyporesponsiveness, and sensory seeking. Examining the association between the three derived sensory factor scores and scores on the Repetitive Behavior Scales—Revised revealed the co-occurrence of these behaviors in both clinical groups. Specifically, high levels of hyperresponsive behaviors predicted high levels of repetitive behaviors, and the relationship between these variables remained the same controlling for mental age. We primarily found non-significant associations between hyporesponsiveness or sensory seeking and repetitive behaviors, with the exception that sensory seeking was associated with ritualistic/sameness behaviors. These findings suggest that shared neurobiological mechanisms may underlie hyperresponsive sensory symptoms and repetitive behaviors and have implications for diagnostic classification as well as intervention.


Journal Articles

Boyd, B. A., McBee, M., Holtzclaw, T., Baranek, G. T., & Bodfish, J. W. (2009). Relationships among repetitive behaviors, sensory features, and executive functions in high functioning autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3(4), 959-966. Show abstractHide abstract

This study examined the relationship between repetitive behaviors and sensory processing issues in school-aged children with high functioning autism (HFA). Children with HFA (N = 61) were compared to healthy, typical controls (N = 64) to determine the relationship between these behavioral classes and to examine whether executive dysfunction explained any relationship between the variables. Particular types of repetitive behavior (i.e., stereotypy and compulsions) were related to sensory features in autism; however, executive deficits were only correlated with repetitive behavior. This finding suggests that executive dysfunction is not the shared neurocognitive mechanism that accounts for the relationship between restricted, repetitive behaviors and aberrant sensory features in HFA. Group status, younger chronological age, presence of sensory processing issues, and difficulties with behavior regulation predicted the presence of repetitive behaviors in the HFA group.

Roberts, J. E., Mankowski, J. B., Sideris, J., Goldman, B. D., Hatton, D. D., Mirrett, P. L., Baranek, G. T., Reznick, J. S., Long, A. C., & Bailey Jr, D. B. (2009). Trajectories and predictors of the development of very young boys with fragile X syndrome. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 34(8), 827-836. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. To describe the development of young boys with fragile X syndrome (FXS).
Methods. Fifty-five boys (aged 8-48 months at study entry) with the full mutation FXS received multiple developmental assessments.
Results. As expected, the boys' rate of development was significantly lower than chronological age expectations. No evidence of slowing in the rate of development was found. Autistic behavior was negatively associated with development, but maternal IQ was not. Developmental delays were evident in some domains as early as 9 months; however, initial detection of delays is complicated by measures and criteria used. Developmental age scores at 31 months of age were related to scores obtained at 61 months of age only in the global composite and visual reception domain.
Conclusions. Developmental delays are evident in some infants with FXS as young as 9 months of age. Pediatric psychologists need to be informed about the developmental profiles in young children with FXS to accurately diagnose, treat, and support these children and their families.

David, F. J., Baranek, G. T., Giuliani, C. A., Mercer, V. S., Poe, M. D., & Thorpe, D. E. (2009). A pilot study: Coordination of precision grip in children and adolescents with high functioning autism. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 21(2), 205-211. Show abstractHide abstract

Purpose. This pilot study compared temporal coordination during a precision grip task between 13 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who were high functioning and 13 peers with typical development.
Methods. Temporal coordination between grip and load forces was measured using latency between onset of grip and load forces, grip force at onset of load force, peak grip force (PGF), and time to PGF.
Results. Compared with peers with typical development, participants with ASD demonstrated prolonged latency between grip and load forces, elevated grip force at onset of load force, and increased movement variability. PGF and time to PGF were not significantly different between the 2 groups.
Conclusions. These findings indicate temporal dyscoordination in participants with ASD. The findings also enhance our understanding of motor coordination deficits in persons with ASD and have theoretical as well as clinical implications.

Losh, M., Adolphs, R., Poe, M. D., Couture, S., Penn, D., Baranek, G. T., & Piven, J. (2009). Neuropsychological profile of autism and the broad autism phenotype. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(5), 518-526. Show abstractHide abstract

Context. Multiple articles describe a constellation of language, personality, and social-behavioral features present in relatives that mirror the symptom domains of autism, but are much milder in expression. Studies of this broad autism phenotype (BAP) may provide a potentially important complementary approach for detecting the genes causing autism and defining associated neural circuitry by identifying more refined phenotypes that can be measured quantitatively in both affected and unaffected individuals and that are tied to functioning in particular regions of the brain.
Objective. To gain insight into neuropsychological features that index genetic liability to autism.
Design. Case-control study.
Setting. The general community.
Participants. Thirty-eight high-functioning individuals with autism and parents of autistic individuals, both with and without the BAP (n = 83), as well as control individuals.
Main Outcome Measures. A comprehensive battery of neuropsychological tasks assessing social cognition, executive function, and global vs local processing strategies (central coherence).
Results. Both individuals with autism and parents with the BAP differed from controls on measures of social cognition, with performance in the other 2 domains being more similar to controls.
Conclusions. Data suggest that the social cognitive domain may be an important target for linking phenotype to cognitive process to brain structure in autism and may ultimately provide insight into the genes involved in autism.

Dickie, V. A., Baranek, G. T., Schultz, B., Watson, L. R., & McComish, C. S. (2009). Parent reports of sensory experiences of preschool children with and without autism: A qualitative study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(2), 172-181. Show abstractHide abstract

This study describes sensory experiences of children with and without autism. Parents of 66 preschoolers (29 typically developing; 37 with autism) described situations in which their child had "good" and "bad" sensory experiences and their perception of how these situations felt to the child. The most common unpleasant experiences for both groups related to sound; the most common pleasant experiences involved touch and movement. Children with autism were reported to have more extreme or unusual experiences and negative food-related experiences than typically developing peers. Parental explanations for children's responses focused on the qualities of the child, stimulus, or context. Parents of children with autism were more likely to recognize elements in their children's experiences as being sensory and to attribute those responses to aspects of autism. Parents' positive response to the interview itself was an unexpected result with clinical relevance.

Crais, E. R., Watson, L. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2009). Use of gesture development in profiling children's prelinguistic communication skills. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18(1), 95-108. Show abstractHide abstract

Purpose. Comparing children's skills across and within domains of development has become a standard in providing early intervention services. Profiling a child's strengths and challenges can help in making decisions regarding eligibility, diagnosis, and intervention. Profiling is particularly important for children who are not yet talking, due to the variability in production skills and the lack of guidelines as to which children are "at risk" for communication deficits versus those who are "late talkers." One area underutilized in profiling is gesture development, despite the fact that research has indicated that the amount and type of gesture use can help in early identification and is predictive of later language.
Method. To guide practicing professionals and researchers in using gesture development to profile children's communication skills, this article provides an overview of the types of gestures and their development, describes assessment methods and tools to document gesture development, pinpoints behaviors and factors important in identifying children with disabilities, and ends with brief examples of using profiling in assessment and intervention planning.
Conclusions. Gesture use should be an important component in profiling children's communication skills, and this type of profiling can enhance both the assessment and intervention process.


Book Chapters

Baranek, G. T., Wakeford, L., & David, F. J. (2008). Understanding, assessing, and treating sensory-motor issues. In K. Chawarska, A. Klin, & F. R. Volkmar (Eds.), Autism spectrum disorders in infants and toddlers: Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment (pp. 104-140). New York, NY: Guilford Press. Full text

Journal Articles

Tannan, V., Holden, J. K., Zhang, Z., Baranek, G. T., & Tommerdahl, M. A. (2008). Perceptual metrics of individuals with autism provide evidence for disinhibition. Autism Research, 1(4), 223-230. Show abstractHide abstract

Adults with autism exhibit inhibitory deficits that are often manifested in behavioral modifications, such as repetitive behaviors, and/or sensory hyper-responsiveness. If such behaviors are the result of a generalized deficiency in inhibitory neurotransmission, then it stands to reason that deficits involving localized cortical-cortical interactions—such as in sensory discrimination tasks—could be detected and quantified. This study exemplifies a newly developed method for quantifying sensory testing metrics. Our novel sensory discrimination tests may provide (a) an effective means for biobehavioral assessment of deficits specific to autism and (b) an efficient and sensitive measure of change following treatment. The sensory discriminative capacity of ten subjects with autism and ten controls was compared both before and after short duration adapting stimuli. Specifically, vibrotactile amplitude discriminative capacity was obtained both in the presence and absence of 1 sec adapting stimuli that were delivered 1 sec prior to the comparison stimuli. Although adaptation had a pronounced effect on the amplitude discriminative capacity of the control subjects, little or no impact was observed on the sensory discriminative capacity of the subjects with autism. This lack of impact of the adapting stimuli on the responses of the subjects with autism was interpreted to be consistent with the reduced GABAergic-mediated inhibition described in previous reports. One significant aspect of this study is that the methods could prove to be a useful and efficient way to detect specific neural deficits and monitor the efficacy of pharmacological or behavioral treatments in autism.

Shafritz, K. M., Dichter, G. S., Baranek, G. T., & Belger, A. (2008). The neural circuitry mediating shifts in behavioral response and cognitive set in autism. Biological Psychiatry, 63(10), 974-980. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. Recent studies have suggested that the social and cognitive impairments in autism are associated with neural processing deficits in specific brain regions. However, these studies have primarily focused on neural systems responsible for face processing and social behaviors. Although repetitive, stereotyped behaviors are a hallmark of autism, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying these behaviors in the disorder.
Methods. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural correlates of shifts in behavioral response and cognitive set in 18 individuals with high-functioning autism and 15 neurotypical control participants. Participants performed a target detection task specifically designed to distinguish shifts in response from shifts in cognitive set.
Results. Individuals with autism showed lower accuracy on response shifting trials, independent of whether those trials also required a shift in cognitive set. Compared with control subjects, participants with autism showed reduced activation in frontal, striatal, and parietal regions during these trials. In addition, within the autism group, the severity of restricted, repetitive behaviors was negatively correlated with activation in anterior cingulate and posterior parietal regions.
Conclusions. These results suggest that executive deficits and, by extension, repetitive behaviors associated with autism might reflect a core dysfunction within the brain's executive circuitry.

Tommerdahl, M., Tannan, V., Holden, J. K., & Baranek, G. T. (2008). Absence of stimulus-driven synchronization effects on sensory perception in autism: Evidence for local underconnectivity? Behavioral and Brain Functions, 4, 19. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. A number of neurophysiological characteristics demonstrated in autism share the common theme of under-connectivity in the cerebral cortex. One of the prominent theories of the cause of the dysfunctional connectivity in autism is based on distinct anatomical structures that differ between the autistic and the neurotypical cortex. The functional minicolumn has been identified as occupying a much smaller space in the cortex of people with autism as compared to neurotypical controls, and this aberration in architecture has been proposed to lead to under-connectivity at the local or within-macrocolumn level, which in turn leads to dysfunctional connectivity globally across cortical areas in persons with autism. Numerous reports have indicated reduced synchronization of activity on a large scale in the brains of people with autism. We hypothesized that if the larger-scale aberrant dynamics in autism were due — at least in part — to a widespread propagation of the errors introduced at the level of local connectivity between minicolumns, then aberrations in local functional connectivity should also be detectable in autism.
Methods. Recently, we reported a method for measuring the perceptual changes that are impacted by the presence of synchronized conditioning stimuli on the skin. In this study, the temporal order judgment (TOJ) and temporal discriminative threshold (TDT) of 10 adult autism subjects were assessed both in the absence and presence of synchronized conditioning vibrotactile stimuli.
Results. Our previous report demonstrated that delivering simultaneous and synchronized vibrotactile stimuli to near-adjacent skin sites decreases a subject's ability to determine temporal order by 3 to 4-fold. However, results presented in this report show that subjects with autism do not demonstrate such decreased capacity in temporal order judgment (TOJ) in the presence of synchronized conditioning stimuli, although these same subjects do have TOJ thresholds well above that of controls.
Conclusion. It is speculated that the differences in sensory perceptual capacities in the presence of synchronized conditioning stimuli in autism are due to local under-connectivity in cortex at the minicolumnar organizational level, and that the above-average TOJ thresholds in autism could be attributed to structural differences that have been observed in the frontostrial system of this population.

Cascio, C., McGlone, F., Folger, S., Tannan, V., Baranek, G. T., Pelphrey, K. A., & Essick, G. (2008). Tactile perception in adults with autism: A multidimensional psychophysical study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(1), 127-137. Show abstractHide abstract

Although sensory problems, including unusual tactile sensitivity, are heavily associated with autism, there is a dearth of rigorous psychophysical research. We compared tactile sensation in adults with autism to controls on the palm and forearm, the latter innervated by low-threshold unmyelinated afferents subserving a social/affiliative submodality of somatosensation. At both sites, the groups displayed similar thresholds for detecting light touch and innocuous sensations of warmth and cool, and provided similar hedonic ratings of the pleasantness of textures. In contrast, increased sensitivity to vibration was seen in the autism group on the forearm, along with increased sensitivity to thermal pain at both sites. These findings suggest normal perception along with certain areas of enhanced perception in autism, consistent with previous studies.

Baranek, G. T., Roberts, J. E., David, F. J., Sideris, J., Mirrett, P. L., Hatton, D. D., & Bailey Jr, D. B. (2008). Developmental trajectories and correlates of sensory processing in young boys with fragile X syndrome. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 28(1), 79-98. Show abstractHide abstract

Background and Purpose. No longitudinal study on sensory processing in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS) exists. This study examined developmental trajectories and correlates of sensory processing from infancy through preschool years in 13 boys with FXS.
Method. Participants were assessed using observational and parent-report measures 2-6 times between 9 and 54 months of age.
Results. Over time, an increasing proportion of boys displayed sensory processing that differed significantly from test norms. Observational measures were more sensitive than parent-reports early in infancy. Age and developmental quotient significantly predicted levels of hyporesponsiveness; there was a trend for hyperresponsiveness to increase with age. Baseline physiological and biological measures were not predictive.
Conclusions. Sensory processing problems are observable early and grow increasingly problematic from infancy through the preschool ages. Early identification and intervention may attenuate long-term difficulties for children with FXS.


Journal Articles

Reznick, J. S., Baranek, G. T., Reavis, S., Watson, L. R., & Crais, E. R. (2007). A parent-report instrument for identifying one-year-olds at risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism: The First Year Inventory. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(9), 1691-1710. Show abstractHide abstract

A parent-report instrument, the First Year Inventory (FYI), was developed to assess behaviors in 12-month-old infants that suggest risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism. The target behaviors were identified from retrospective and prospective studies. FYIs were mailed to 5,941 families and 25% (N = 1,496) were returned, with higher return rates for white families and for families with greater educational attainment. Ad hoc groups of questions afforded measurement of eight specific constructs, which were combined to establish a general risk index. Boys had higher risk scores than did girls. Maternal race and education influenced answers. A small percentage of infants appeared to be at notably elevated risk. Large-scale longitudinal research is warranted to determine whether the FYI can predict an eventual diagnosis of autism.

Baranek, G. T., Boyd, B. A., Poe, M. D., David, F. J., & Watson, L. R. (2007). Hyperresponsive sensory patterns in young children with autism, developmental delay, and typical development. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 112(4), 233-245.[233:HSPIYC]2.0.CO;2 Show abstractHide abstract

The nature of hyperresponsiveness to sensory stimuli in children with autism, using a new observational measure, the SPA, was examined. Three groups of young participants were assessed (autism, developmental delay, typical). Across all groups, MA was a predictor of hyperresponsiveness, such that aversion to multisensory toys decreased as MA increased. The two clinical groups displayed higher levels of sensory aversion than the typical group. The groups did not differ in the proportion of children habituating to an auditory stimulus; however, nonresponders were more prevalent in the autism group. These findings elucidate developmental influences on sensory features and the specificity of hyperresponsiveness to clinical groups. Implications for understanding pathogenesis, differentiating constructs of hypersensitivity, and planning treatment are discussed.

Tommerdahl, M., Tannan, V., Cascio, C. J., Baranek, G. T., & Whitsel, B. L. (2007). Vibrotactile adaptation fails to enhance spatial localization in adults with autism. Brain Research, 1154, 116-123. Show abstractHide abstract

A recent study [Tannan, V., Tommerdahl, M., Whitsel, B.L., 2006. Vibrotactile adaptation enhances spatial localization. Brain Res. 1102(1), 109-116 (Aug 2)] showed that pre-exposure of a skin region to a 5 s 25 Hz flutter stimulus ("adaptation") results in an approximately 2-fold improvement in the ability of neurologically healthy human adults to localize mechanical stimulation delivered to the same skin region that received the adapting stimulation. Tannan et al. [Tannan, V., Tommerdahl, M., Whitsel, B.L., 2006. Vibrotactile adaptation enhances spatial localization. Brain Res. 1102(1), 109-116 (Aug 2)] proposed that tactile spatial discriminative performance is improved following adaptation because adaptation is accompanied by an increase in the spatial contrast in the response of contralateral primary somatosensory cortex (SI) to mechanical skin stimulation — an effect identified in previous imaging studies of SI cortex in anesthetized non-human primates [e.g., Simons, S.B., Tannan, V., Chiu, J., Favorov, O.V., Whitsel, B.L., Tommerdahl, M, 2005. Amplitude-dependency of response of SI cortex to flutter stimulation. BMC Neurosci. 6(1), 43 (Jun 21) ; Tommerdahl, M., Favorov, O.V., Whitsel, B.L., 2002. Optical imaging of intrinsic signals in somatosensory cortex. Behav. Brain Res. 135, 83-91; Whitsel, B.L., Favorov, O.V., Tommerdahl, M., Diamond, M., Juliano, S., Kelly, D., 1989. Dynamic processes govern the somatosensory cortical response to natural stimulation. In: Lund, J.S., (Ed.), Sensory Processing in the Mammalian Brain. Oxford Univ. Press, New York, 79-107]. In the experiments described in this report, a paradigm identical to that employed previously by Tannan et al. [Tannan, V., Tommerdahl, M., Whitsel, B.L., 2006. Vibrotactile adaptation enhances spatial localization. Brain Res. 1102(1), 109-116 (Aug 2)] was used to study adults with autism. The results demonstrate that although cutaneous localization performance of adults with autism is significantly better than the performance of control subjects when the period of adapting stimulation is short (i.e., 0.5 s), tactile spatial discriminative capacity remained unaltered in the same subjects when the duration of adapting stimulation was increased (to 5 s). Both the failure of prior history of tactile stimulation to alter tactile spatial localization in adults with autism, and the better-than-normal tactile localization performance of adults with autism when the period of adaptation is short are concluded to be attributable to the deficient cerebral cortical GABAergic inhibitory neurotransmission characteristic of this disorder.

Zwaigenbaum, L., Thurm, A., Stone, W., Baranek, G. T., Bryson, S., Iverson, J., Kau, A., Klin, A., Lord, C., Landa, R., Rogers, S., & Sigman, M. (2007). Studying the emergence of autism spectrum disorders in high-risk infants: Methodological and practical issues. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(3), 466-480. Show abstractHide abstract

Detecting early signs of autism is essential for timely diagnosis and initiation of effective interventions. Several research groups have initiated prospective studies of high-risk populations including infant siblings, to systematically collect data on early signs within a longitudinal design. Despite the potential advantages of prospective studies of young children at high-risk for autism, there are also significant methodological, ethical and practical challenges. This paper outlines several of these challenges, including those related to sampling (e.g., defining appropriate comparison groups), measurement and clinical implications (e.g., addressing the needs of infants suspected of having early signs). We suggest possible design and implementation strategies to address these various challenges, based on current research efforts in the field and previous studies involving high-risk populations.

Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., Reznick, S. J., Dykstra, J., & Perryman, T. (2007). The First Year Inventory: Retrospective parent responses to a questionnaire designed to identify one-year-olds at risk for autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(1), 49-61. Show abstractHide abstract

The First Year Inventory (FYI) is a parent questionnaire designed to assess behaviors in 12-month-olds that suggest risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism. We examined the construct validity of the FYI by comparing retrospective responses of parents of preschool children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD; n = 38), other developmental disabilities (DD; n = 15), and typical development (TD; n = 40). Children with ASD were rated at significantly higher risk on the FYI than children with DD or TD. The DD group was at intermediate risk, also significantly higher than the TD group. These retrospective data strengthen the validity of the FYI and have implications for refining the FYI to improve its utility for prospective screening of 12-month-olds.


Journal Articles

Crais, E. R., Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., & Reznick, J. S. (2006). Early identification of autism: How early can we go? Seminars in Speech and Language, 27(3), 143-160. Show abstractHide abstract

Identification of young children at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) depends on early behavioral symptomatology and yet conventional criteria provide little guidance for use with infants and toddlers. Recent research, however, has demonstrated that there are patterns of behavior below 2 years of age that distinguish children with autism from those who are developing typically or those with other developmental disabilities. Skill areas with particular promise for early identification include social communication, sensory regulation, and play. This article previews current innovative methodologies, presents a synthesis of recent research findings related to these three key areas, and provides clinicians with practical guidelines for early identification of infants and toddlers at risk for ASD and other disorders.

Colgan, S. E., Lanter, E., McComish, C., Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2006). Analysis of social interaction gestures in infants with autism. Child Neuropsychology, 12(4-5), 307-319. Show abstractHide abstract

This study analyzes the emergent use of gestures used among 9-12-month-old infants with autism and typical development using retrospective video analysis. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine the frequency, initiation, prompting, and diversity of types of gestures used for social interaction purposes. It was hypothesized that a restricted variety in type(s) of gestures as well as fewer child-initiated gestures and more prompted gestures would be associated with later diagnosis of autism. Logistic regression analysis found that decreased variety in type of gestures used was significantly associated with autism status. Neither number of total gestures nor initiation of gestures (child-initiated vs. prompted) was significantly associated with autism status.

Walz, N. C., & Baranek, G. T. (2006). Sensory processing patterns in persons with Angelman syndrome. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60(4), 472-479. Show abstractHide abstract

Objective. Research examining sensory processing patterns in persons with Angelman syndrome is nonexistent despite anecdotal evidence and clinical diagnostic criteria that may reflect these features. The goal of this study was to better characterize sensory processing patterns in persons with Angelman syndrome.
Method. Parents of 340 persons with Angelman syndrome between 3 and 22 years of age completed a standardized measure of sensory processing, the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire.
Results. Results confirmed a high degree and variety of sensory processing abnormalities in persons with Angelman syndrome. These problems were most prominent in the areas of hypo-responsiveness to tactile and vestibular input, consistent with reports of sensory seeking behaviors in this population. Sensory processing deficits were not related to gender, seizure disorder, or genetic subtype. However, some behaviors were correlated with age.
Conclusion. This study provides the first systematic description of sensory processing abnormalities in a large sample of persons with Angelman syndrome. Considerations for enhancing occupational performance and social participation in this population through occupational therapy interventions are discussed.

Baranek, G. T., David, F. J., Poe, M. D., Stone, W. L., & Watson, L. R. (2006). Sensory Experiences Questionnaire: Discriminating sensory features in young children with autism, developmental delays, and typical development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 47(6), 591-601. Show abstractHide abstract

Background. This study describes a new caregiver-report assessment, the Sensory Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ), and explicates the nature of sensory patterns of hyper- and hyporesponsiveness, their prevalence, and developmental correlates in autism relative to comparison groups.
Method. Caregivers of 258 children in five diagnostic groups (Autism, PDD, DD/MR, Other DD, Typical) ages 5-80 months completed the SEQ.
Results. The SEQ's internal consistency was α' = .80. Prevalence of overall sensory symptoms for the Autism group was 69%. Sensory symptoms were inversely related to mental age. The Autism group had significantly higher symptoms than either the Typical or DD groups and presented with a unique pattern of response to sensory stimuli-hyporesponsiveness in both social and nonsocial contexts. A pattern of hyperresponsiveness was similar in the Autism and DD groups, but significantly greater in both clinical groups than in the Typical group.
Conclusion. The SEQ was able to characterize sensory features in young children with autism, and differentiate their sensory patterns from comparison groups. These unique sensory patterns have etiological implications, as well as relevance for assessment and intervention practices.


Book Chapters

Baranek, G. T., Parham, L. D., & Bodfish, J. W. (2005). Sensory and motor features in autism: Assessment and intervention. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders: Vol. 2: Assessment, interventions, and policy (3rd ed., pp. 831-857). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Journal Articles

Baranek, G. T., Danko, C. D., Skinner, M. L., Bailey Jr., D. B., Hatton, D. D., Roberts, J. E., & Mirrett, P. L. (2005). Video analysis of sensory-motor features in infants with fragile X syndrome at 9-12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(5), 645-656. Show abstractHide abstract

This study utilized retrospective video analysis to distinguish sensory-motor patterns in infants with fragile X syndrome (FXS) (n = 11) from other infants [i.e., autism (n = 11), other developmental delay (n = 10), typical (n = 11)] at 9-12 months of age. Measures of development, autistic features, and FMRP were assessed at the time of entry into the study. Home videos collected from families were edited and coded with previously validated procedures. Findings revealed a pattern of sensory-motor features (e.g., repetitive leg movements, posturing, less sophistication/repetitive use of objects) associated with FXS, and suggest these infants were most similar to the group of infants with other developmental delays, irrespective of co-existing autistic symptoms later in life. Infant sensory-motor features in the FXS group were more predictive of an early developmental milestone (i.e., age walking) than later, more broad, developmental outcomes, or FMRP. Implications for early identification and differential diagnosis are discussed.

Baranek, G. T., Barnett, C. R., Adams, E. M., Wolcott, N. A., Watson, L. R., & Crais, E. R. (2005). Object play in infants with autism: Methodological issues in retrospective video analysis. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59(1), 20-30. Show abstractHide abstract

This study utilized retrospective video analysis to distinguish sensory-motor patterns in infants with fragile X syndrome (FXS) (n = 11) from other infants [i.e., autism (n = 11), other developmental delay (n = 10), typical (n = 11)] at 9-12 months of age. Measures of development, autistic features, and FMRP were assessed at the time of entry into the study. Home videos collected from families were edited and coded with previously validated procedures. Findings revealed a pattern of sensory-motor features (e.g., repetitive leg movements, posturing, less sophistication/repetitive use of objects) associated with FXS, and suggest these infants were most similar to the group of infants with other developmental delays, irrespective of co-existing autistic symptoms later in life. Infant sensory-motor features in the FXS group were more predictive of an early developmental milestone (i.e., age walking) than later, more broad, developmental outcomes, or FMRP. Implications for early identification and differential diagnosis are discussed.


Journal Articles

Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., & DiLavore, P. C. (2003). Toddlers with autism: Developmental perspectives. Infants & Young Children, 16(3), 201-214. Show abstractHide abstract

Recent research has greatly expanded our knowledge about the early development of children with autism and related disorders. Familiarity with this literature will improve the ability of professionals to appropriately diagnose and intervene with young children with autism. This article reviews the literature pertaining to the development of children with autism under the age of 3 years. We examine findings on affective development, sensory processing and attention, praxis and imitation, communication, play, and motor features and stereotyped behaviors, and discuss the interrelationships among these different aspects of development. Screening and diagnostic tools with specific applicability to young children with autism are reviewed as well.


Journal Articles

Baranek, G. T. (2002). Efficacy of sensory and motor interventions for children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(5), 397-422. Show abstractHide abstract

Idiosyncratic responses to sensory stimuli and unusual motor patterns have been reported clinically in young children with autism. The etiology of these behavioral features is the subject of much speculation. Myriad sensory- and motor-based interventions have evolved for use with children with autism to address such issues; however, much controversy exists about the efficacy of such therapies. This review paper summarizes the sensory and motor difficulties often manifested in autism, and evaluates the scientific basis of various sensory and motor interventions used with this population. Implications for education and further research are described.

Baranek, G. T., Chin, Y. H., Hess, L. M., Yankee, J. G., Hatton, D. D., & Hooper, S. R. (2002). Sensory processing correlates of occupational performance in children with fragile X syndrome: Preliminary findings. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56(5), 538-546. Show abstractHide abstract

Objectives. This preliminary study examined sensory processing and its relationship to occupational performance in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS) to guide research and evidence-based practice.
Method. Fifteen school-aged boys with full-mutation FXS were assessed with three occupational performance measures (School Function Assessment, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, play duration) and three sensory processing measures (Sensory Profile, Tactile Defensiveness and Discrimination Test-Revised, Sensory Approach-Avoidance Rating). Data were analyzed using partial correlation procedures.
Results. Several significant correlations were found, independent of effects of age and IQ. Avoidance of sensory experiences (internally controlled) was associated with lower levels of school participation, self-care, and play. Aversion to touch from externally controlled sources was associated with a trend toward greater independence in self-care—opposite of expectations.
Conclusion. This study links sensory processing vulnerabilities with individual differences in occupational performance and supports a dynamic view of self-organizing systems. Children's uses of avoidant versus independent behaviors may reflect different self-regulatory or coping strategies that potentially mediate the relationship between sensory processing deficits and occupational behaviors and warrant further investigation.


Book Chapters

Baranek, G. T., Reinhartsen, D., & Wannamaker, S. (2001). Play: Engaging young children with autism. In R. A. Heubner (Ed.), Autism: A sensorimotor approach to management (pp. 313-351). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen.


Journal Articles

Wood, W., Nielson, C., Humphry, R., Coppola, S., Baranek, G. T., & Rourk, J. (2000). A curricular renaissance: Graduate education centered on occupation. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 54(6), 586-597. Show abstractHide abstract

A 3-year project of curricular renaissance undertaken by the faculty of an entry-level master's degree program is described. This project culminated in a thoroughly redesigned program of study centered around the construct of occupation and built on a foundation of knowledge in occupational science. Described herein are three developmental and highly iterative domains of activity that were crucial to the project's success: (a) environmental scanning and analysis, (b) creation of a compelling future vision of occupational therapy, and (c) curriculum planning. Also detailed are especially salient assumptions and beliefs about graduate education as well as seven themes that encompass the program's academic content and illustrate its defining emphases. These themes are (a) occupation, (b) the human as an occupational being, (c) occupation as a medium of change, (d) clinical reasoning, (e) ethical reasoning, (f) investigative reasoning, and (g) occupational therapists as scholars and change agents in systems. The article concludes with reflections on innovation in graduate education in occupational therapy today.

Hooper, S. R., Hatton, D. D., Baranek, G. T., Roberts, J. P., & Bailey, D. B. (2000). Nonverbal assessment of IQ, attention, and memory abilities in children with fragile-X syndrome using the Leiter-R. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 18(3), 255-267. Show abstractHide abstract

This study examined the clinical utility of the recently revised Leiter International Performance Scale (Leiter-R) with a sample of children with fragile-X syndrome. The sample included 25 male children ranging in age from 4.0 to 12.8 years and was 92% European American. All subjects were administered the entire Attention and Memory Battery, and the four subtests from the Visualization and Reasoning Battery that comprise the Brief IQ composite. These tasks were selected to address specific concerns pertaining to memory and attention in individuals with fragile-X. Initial examination of the data revealed that all of the children completed the subtests comprising the Brief IQ and, outside of the Attention Divided subtest, over 80% of the children completed most of the subtests on the Attention and Memory Battery. Findings from the Leiter-R were generally consistent with previously reported assessment results with this population. Overall, the sample fell within the mild to moderate range of mental retardation, with over 80% of the group at or below this range of functioning. As a group, relative difficulty was noted on tasks tapping selective attention and working memory. Ipsatively, a relative strength was apparent across cases on the Associated Pairs subtest. Chronological age had a significant moderate positive correlation with the Leiter-R growth score for the composite scales and a significant strong negative correlation with the age-based standard score for Brief IQ. These findings are discussed with respect to the clinical and research applications of the Leiter-R for children with fragile-X as well as for children with other developmental disabilities.

Filipek, P. A., Accardo, P. J., Ashwal, S., Baranek, G. T., Cook Jr., E. H., Dawson, G., Gordon, B., Gravel, J. S., Johnson, C. P., Kallen, R. J., Levy, S. E., Minshew, N. J., Ozonoff, S., Prizant, B. M., Rapin, I., Rogers, S. J., Stone, W. L., Teplin, S. W., Tuchman, R. F., & Volkmar, F. R. (2000). Practice parameter: Screening and diagnosis of autism: Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society. Neurology, 55(4), 468-479. Show abstractHide abstract

Autism is a common disorder of childhood, affecting 1 in 500 children. Yet, it often remains unrecognized and undiagnosed until or after late preschool age because appropriate tools for routine developmental screening and screening specifically for autism have not been available. Early identification of children with autism and intensive, early intervention during the toddler and preschool years improves outcome for most young children with autism. This practice parameter reviews the available empirical evidence and gives specific recommendations for the identification of children with autism. This approach requires a dual process: 1) routine developmental surveillance and screening specifically for autism to be performed on all children to first identify those at risk for any type of atypical development, and to identify those specifically at risk for autism; and 2) to diagnose and evaluate autism, to differentiate autism from other developmental disorders.


Journal Articles

Filipek, P. A., Accardo, P. J., Baranek, G. T., Cook Jr., E. H., Dawson, G., Gordon, B., Gravel, J. S., Johnson, C. P., Kallen, R. J., Levy, S. E., Minshew, N. J., Ozonoff, S., Prizant, B. M., Rapin, I., Rogers, S. J., Stone, W. L., Teplin, S., Tuchman, R. F., & Volkmar, F. R. (1999). The screening and diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(6), 439-484. Show abstractHide abstract

The Child Neurology Society and American Academy of Neurology recently proposed to formulate Practice Parameters for the Diagnosis and Evaluation of Autism for their memberships. This endeavor was expanded to include representatives from nine professional organizations and four parent organizations, with liaisons from the National Institutes of Health. This document was written by this multidisciplinary Consensus Panel after systematic analysis of over 2,500 relevant scientific articles in the literature. The Panel concluded that appropriate diagnosis of autism requires a dual-level approach: (a) routine developmental surveillance, and (b) diagnosis and evaluation of autism. Specific detailed recommendations for each level have been established in this document, which are intended to improve the rate of early suspicion and diagnosis of, and therefore early intervention for, autism.

Baranek, G. T. (1999). Autism during infancy: A retrospective video analysis of sensory-motor and social behaviors at 9-12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29(3), 213-224. Show abstractHide abstract

This retrospective video study explored the usefulness of sensory-motor measures in addition to social behaviors as early predictors of autism during infancy. Three groups included 11 children with autism, 10 with developmental disabilities, and 11 typically developing children. Home videos were edited to obtain a 10-minute cross-section of situations at 9-12 months for each subjects. Using interval scoring, raters coded several behavioral categories (i.e., Looking, Affect, Response to Name, Anticipatory Postures, Motor/Object Stereotypies, Social Touch, Sensory Modulation). Nine items, in combination, were found to discriminate the three groups with a correct classification rate of 93.75%. These findings indicate that subtle symptoms of autism are present at 9-12 months, and suggest that early assessment procedures need to consider sensory processing/sensory-motor functions in addition to social responses during infancy. Furthermore, prior to a time that they reported autistic symptoms, caregivers used compensatory strategies to increase the saliency of stimuli in order to engage their children more successfully; these strategies may provide a window for earlier diagnosis.


Journal Articles

Baranek, G. T., Foster, L. G., & Berkson, G. (1997). Sensory defensiveness in persons with developmental disabilities. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, 17(3), 173-185. Show abstractHide abstract

Little empirical data about the nature of tactile defensiveness and other types of sensory defensiveness are available. Clinicians speculate that these various phenomena are related as part of the more general construct of sensory defensiveness. Furthermore, although it is suspected that these behaviors are prevalent in persons with developmental disabilities, no estimates are currently available. This study used data from a 54-item survey about various kinds of stereotyped and unusual behaviors completed by a large sample of adults (n=158) and children (n=88) with developmental disabilities. Six items from the survey were selected that were thought to represent types of sensory defensiveness. Estimates of relative prevalence of these behaviors ranged from 3% to 30%. Developmental differences emerged; children in the sample displayed a higher prevalence of noise sensitivity and other, general sensitivity. Many of the items were significantly correlated with one another. An initial principle component analysis provided some evidence for a general factor of sensory defensiveness. A second principle component analysis with varimax rotation demonstrated two subtypes: "Auditory/Other Hypersensitivity" and "Tactile Defensiveness." These findings elucidated the complexity of the structure of sensory defensiveness and have implications for occupational therapy assessment and treatment, particularly in the area of sensory integration theory.

Baranek, G. T., Foster, L. G., & Berkson, G. (1997). Tactile defensiveness and stereotyped behaviors. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 51(2), 91-95. Show abstractHide abstract

Objectives. This study explores the constructs of stereotyped behaviors (e.g., repetitive motor patterns, object manipulations, behavioral rigidities) and tactile defensiveness as relevant to occupational therapy theory and practice and attempts to test their purported relationships in children with developmental disabilities.
Method. Twenty-eight children with developmental disabilities and autism were assessed on eight factors of stereotyped behavior via a questionnaire and by four measures of tactile defensiveness. The subjects' scores from the questionnaire were correlated with their scores on the tactile defensiveness measures to see what, if any, relationship among these behaviors exists.
Results. Significant relationships emerged from the data, indicating that subjects with higher levels of tactile defensiveness were also more likely to evidence rigid or inflexible behaviors, repetitive verbalizations, visual stereotypes, and abnormal focused affections that are often associated with autism. No significant association was found between motor and object stereotypes and tactile defensiveness. These relationships could not be explained solely by maturational factors.
Conclusion. The results suggest that clinicians should include observations of stereotyped behaviors, particularly behavioral rigidities, in conjunction with assessments of sensory defensiveness because these are related phenomena that may pose unique challenges for children with developmental disabilities and autism. Further study is needed to determine the causal mechanisms responsible for these relationships.


Journal Articles

Berkson, G., Gutermuth, L., & Baranek, G. T. (1995). Relative prevalence and relations among stereotyped and similar behaviors. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 100(2), 137-145. Full text Show abstractHide abstract

Relative prevalence and relations among stereotyped and similar behaviors were studied in 246 children and adults with developmental disabilities. For each subject, two staff members who knew the participant at least moderately well filled out a checklist of 54 items that sampled various forms of stereotyped behaviors, abnormal focused affections, compulsions, rigidity, savant skills, and defensiveness. Agreements between raters for individual participants were low to moderate. However, the item prevalence scores for the two groups of observers were stable. Correlations between several items were significant. Factor analyses produced weak evidence for a general Stereotypy factor and further evidence for 6 to 8 subfactors, some of which are generally consistent with accepted classification of the types of behaviors studied here.


Journal Articles

Baranek, G. T., & Berkson, G. (1994). Tactile defensiveness in children with developmental disabilities: Responsiveness and habituation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24(4), 457-471. Show abstractHide abstract

Tactile defensiveness (TD) is characterized by behaviors such as rubbing, scratching, negative expressions, withdrawal, or avoidance in response to tactile stimulation. An inhibition deficit has been implied in the literature and is the focus of this study. School-aged children with developmental disabilities were first assessed for level of TD using three measures. Later, the children were presented with a repeated tactile stimulus while engaged in a computer game. Intensity, duration, and latency of the responses were recorded on each trial. It was hypothesized that higher levels of TD would be associated with (a) greater responsiveness and (b) slower habituation rates to the tactile stimulus. Correlations of three separate TD measures and a series of 3 x 10 (Level of TD by Responsiveness across trials) repeated measures ANOVAs were used to test the two hypotheses. Children who demonstrated higher levels of TD on some of the preliminary measures also showed higher responsiveness in the experimental situation. There was no general habituation effect, and the limited group by trials interactions were not interpretable. We conclude that there is evidence for a differential sensitivity in TD, but not an inhibition deficit. Another significant finding included a negative correlation between TD and developmental age.