For people with autism, it is not unusual to experience either sensory hypersensitivity or under-sensitivity, especially when it comes to touch. While autism is often thought to be caused by brain malfunction, compelling research done by M.D., Ph.D. Sung-Tsang Hsieh of National Taiwan University Hospital and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology hints at the idea that the brain is not the only culprit. Hsieh conducted a scientific study in hopes of discovering the underlying reason for these sensory perceptions. Although perhaps limited in generalizability due to the small number of participants and the use of only males in the group of those with autism, Hseih’s study grants us a closer look at the connection between internal nerve function and the symptoms of autism patients.
Tests were performed on the sensory nerves of participants with and without autism in order to detect possible damage in their nerve fibers. The researchers found that while those without autism had normal nerve fiber densities, around 53% of the participants with autism had deficient density levels. Those with low densities were also less sensitive to heat applied to their skin, as they only experienced pain at higher temperatures. Another key finding of the experiment is that among those with autism, participants without nerve damage reported feeling uneasy when their skin came into contact with other substances, while those with nerve damage reported being less sensitive to touch.
Both the quantitative results of the study and the self-reported experiences of participants led Hsieh to infer that under-sensitivity to nerve stimulation points to neurodegeneration. This discovery draws a parallel between impaired nerve function in autism and nerve damage characteristic of peripheral neuropathy, a condition also associated with reduced sensations.
“Nerves That Sense Touch May Play Role in Autism.” ScienceDaily, 14 Oct. 2020,