Sensory Over-Responsiveness and Psychiatric Disorders

Sensory Over-Responsiveness and Psychiatric Disorders

by John Koutras, MD

A new study sheds light on the link between children who are hypersensitive to sounds, textures, etc. and the presence of psychiatric disorders.   This condition has been termed sensory over-responsivity (SOR), or difficulties in sensory integration.  While the presence of SOR can clinically be a red flag for the presence of psychopathology, no study has systematically analyzed the degree to which SOR is distinct from various psychiatric disorders.   This twin study of school-age children also had the advantage of being able to test for shared genetic and environmental influences between the two areas. 

Primary caregivers were interviewed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC), offering probable diagnoses.  Of note, however, autistic spectrum disorders were excluded.  Symptoms of over-responsivity were obtained by parent interviews with the SensOR interview, which assesses both auditory symptoms (such as toilet flushing sounds) and tactile symptoms (such as finger paint). 

Approximately 58% of children with SOR met criteria for a psychiatric disorder.  This number dropped to 42% if Specific Phobia was excluded. Thus, a substantial portion of children who screened positive for SOR do not have a formal diagnosis, although there was overlap.  There was evidence of shared genes influencing both SOR and particularly internalizing symptoms like depression and anxiety.

Reference:  Van Hulle C, Schmidt N, et al.  Is sensory over-responsivity distinguishable from childhood behavior problems?  A phenotypic and genetic analysis.  J Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2012: 53 Jan: 64-72.

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