The majority of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience sensory processing difficulties that are also associated with greater presence of autistic traits, psychiatric difficulty, and intolerance of uncertainty (IU). These relationships are also expressed in the neurotypical (NT) population, termed the Broader Autism Phenotype (BAP), and present with impacts to daily functioning/well-being just as prominently. However, little is known concerning the neurophysiologic nature of these behavioral relationships, especially in young adults. Thus, the purpose of the current study was to examine the behavioral and neurophysiologic nature of the relationships between sensory processing, autistic traits, and related behavioral functions in NT young adults. To accomplish this, approximately 1200 NT university students aged 17-26 years old completed a compilation of behavioral questionnaires addressing sensory processing difficulties, autistic trait expression, psychiatric difficulties, and IU. A subset of this sample, (n = 55) participated in a resting-state fMRI to evaluate atypical connectivity between sensory-related and supramodal brain regions. Partial correlations of behavioral measure total and subtest scores reveal that sensory processing, autistic traits, IU, and empathizing are all significantly correlated with each other. Between-groups comparisons of college major groups show that these behavioral relationships are heightened in particular fields of study (e.g., physical and mathematical sciences). Cluster analysis demonstrates that a subset of participants with first-degree relatives possessing an ASD diagnosis exhibit less favorable scores on all measures. Finally, neurophysiologic results portray that atypical functional connectivity between sensory-related brain regions (i.e., bilateral pre/postcentral gyri) and supramodal brain areas (i.e., bilateral supramarginal gyri, sensorimotor/cerebellar network, and salience network) is connected with increased total scores of autistic traits, sensory processing, and IU. These results are novel—as they show brain networks related to autistic trait expression in the NT population that may help with identifying neural contributors to ASD, thus, improving objective diagnostics and physiologic supports/interventions. In addition, these findings increase awareness of the daily functional, and challenging, impacts of sensory processing difficulties and autistic traits on all individuals, independent of diagnostic status. Therefore, accommodations/services could be improved for young adults in clinical, educational, and personal settings to improve overall quality of life.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Communication Disorders



Date Submitted


Document Type





autism, anxiety, sensory experience, sensory integration, prediction, neurosciences



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Education Commons