Trajectories of Sensory Over-Responsivity from Early to Middle Childhood: Birth and Temperament Risk Factors
Sensory over-responsivity, a subtype of sensory modulation disorder, is characterized by extreme negative reactions to normative sensory experiences. These over-reactions can interfere with daily activities and cause stress to children and their families. The etiology and developmental course of sensory over-responsivity is still largely unknown. We measured tactile and auditory over-responsivity in a population-based, typically developing sample of twins (N=978) at age two years via a caregiver report temperament questionnaire and again at age seven years via a sensory over-responsivity symptom inventory. Participating twins were treated as singletons although all analyses controlled for clustering within families. Children were divided into four trajectory groups based on risk status at both ages: low symptom (N=768), remitted (N=75), late-onset (N=112), and chronic (N=24). A subset of children who screened positive for SOR in toddlerhood (N = 102) took part in a pilot study focused on sensory over-responsivity at four years of age. Children in the chronic group had more severe symptoms of sensory sensitivity at age four years, including more motion sensitivity, than the other trajectory groups. Children in the chronic group had a younger gestational age and were more likely to be low birth-weight than the low symptom group. Differences between remitted and late-onset groups and the low-symptoms group were inconsistent across measures. Sensory over-responsivity was modestly correlated across ages (r = .22 for tactile over-responsivity and r = .11 for auditory over-responsivity), but symptoms were more stable among children born prematurely or who had more fearful and less soothable temperaments. A clear implication is that assessment over development may be necessary for a valid sensory processing disorder diagnosis, and a speculative implication is that sensory over-responsivity symptoms may be etiologically heterogeneous, with different causes of transient and stable symptoms.