“Autistic children want to have control over their environment, to make it more predictable,” says lead researcher Elizabeth Pellicano, professor of psychology and human development at the University of London. Helping children learn to draw from past experiences to better predict the outcome of future situations may quell their anxiety along with their sensory sensitivities, Pellicano says. The work appeared 10 February in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
The findings suggest that interventions aimed at helping children with autism to cope with unpredictability could help to ease their anxiety and sensory sensitivities.
“What we’re suggesting is that all three of these factors are interacting, and if you act on one of these things, it might have consequences for the others,” Pellicano says.
In 2014, Sinha unveiled the provocative theory that children with autism overlook important clues leading up to an event and are often taken by surprise when a situation unfolds. The world can seem unpredictable and overwhelming from this perspective, he says.
“The link between sensory sensitivities and difficulties in handling uncertainty has important implications not only for our basic understanding of autism, but also for potential interventions,” Pawan says. “Instead of attempting to simply ‘dampen down’ the sensory environment of a child on the spectrum, it may be more effective to enhance its predictability.”