Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter October 1, 2018

A review of the use of EEG connectivity to measure the neurological characteristics of the sensory features in young people with autism

Kimaya Sarmukadam, Christopher F. Sharpley, Vicki Bitsika, Mary M.E. McMillan and Linda L. Agnew


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition affecting about 1 in 100 children and is currently incurable. ASD represents a challenge to traditional methods of assessment and diagnosis, and it has been suggested that direct measures of brain activity and connectivity between brain regions during demanding tasks represents a potential pathway to building more accurate models of underlying brain function and ASD. One of the key behavioural diagnostic indicators of ASD consists of sensory features (SF), often characterised by over- or under-reactivity to environmental stimuli. SF are associated with behavioural difficulties that impede social and education success in these children as well as anxiety and depression. This review examines the previous literature on the measurement of EEG connectivity and SF observed in individuals with ASD.


APA (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed, Text Revision. Washington, DC, USA: American Psychiatric Association).Search in Google Scholar

APA (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (Washington, DC, USA: American Psychiatric Association).Search in Google Scholar

Baranek, G.T., David, F.J., Poe, M.D., Stone, W.L., and Watson, L.R. (2006). Sensory experiences questionnaire: Discriminating sensory features in young children with autism, developmental delays, and typical development. J. Child. Psychol. Psychiatry 47, 591–601.10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01546.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Skinner, R., Martin, J., and Clubley, E. (2001). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 31, 5–17.10.1023/A:1005653411471Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Baum, S.H., Stevenson, R.A., and Wallace, M.T. (2015). Behavioral, perceptual, and neural alterations in sensory and multisensory function in autism spectrum disorder. Prog. Neurobiol. 134, 140–160.10.1016/j.pneurobio.2015.09.007Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Baxter, A.J., Brugha, T.S., Erskine, H.E., Scheurer, R.W., Vos, T., and Scott, J.G. (2015). The epidemiology and global burden of autism spectrum disorders. Psychol. Med. 45, 601–613.10.1017/S003329171400172XSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

Ben-Sasson, A., Hen, L., Fluss, R., Cremak, S., Engel-Yeger, B., and Gal, E. (2009). A meta-analysis of sensory modulation symptoms in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 39, 1–11.10.1007/s10803-008-0593-3Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Bitsika, V., Sharpley, C., and Mills, R. (2016). How are Sensory Features associated with seven anxiety disorders in boys with Autism Spectrum Disorder? Int. J. Dev. Neurosci. 50, 47–54.10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2016.03.005Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Bosl, W., Tierney, A., Tager-Flusberg, H., and Nelson, C. (2011). EEG complexity as a biomarker for autism spectrum disorder risk. BMC Med. 9, 18.10.1186/1741-7015-9-18Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Boutros, N. (2011). Historical Review of Electroencephalography in Psychiatry. Standard Electroencephalography in Clinical Psychiatry: A Practical Handbook, First Edition. N. Boutros, S. Galderisi, O. Pogarell, and S. Riggio, eds. (Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons).10.1002/9780470974612.ch1Search in Google Scholar

Bowyer, S.M. (2016). Coherence a measure of the brain networks: past and present. Neuropsychiatr. Electrophysiol. 2, 1–12.10.1186/s40810-015-0015-7Search in Google Scholar

Bronzino, J.D. (2000). Principles of Electroencephalography. The Biomedical Engineering Handbook, Second Edition. J.D. Bronzino, ed. (Boca Raton USA: CRC Press LLC).Search in Google Scholar

Brown, C. and Dunn, W. (2006). The Adolesent/Adult Sensory Profile (New York, USA: NCS Pearson).Search in Google Scholar

Brown, C., Tollefson, N., Dunn, W., Cromwell, R., and Filion, D. (2001). The adult sensory profile: patterns of sensory processing. Am. J. Occup. Ther. 55, 75–82.10.5014/ajot.55.1.75Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Catarino, A., Andrade, A., Churches, O., Wagner, A.P., Baron-Cohen, S., and Ring, H. (2013). Task-related functional connectivity in autism spectrum conditions: an EEG study using wavelet transform coherence. Mol. Autism 4, 1–14.10.1186/2040-2392-4-1Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Clarke, A.R., Barry, R.J., Indraratna, A., Dupuy, F.E., McCarthy, R., and Selikowitz, M. (2016). EEG activity in children with Asperger’s syndrome. Clin. Neurophysiol. 127, 442–451.10.1016/j.clinph.2015.05.015Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Clery, H., Andersson, F., Bonnet-Brilhault, F., Philippe, A., Wicker, B., and Gomot, M. (2013). fMRI investigation of visual change detection in adults with autism. NeuroImage Clin. 2, 303–312.10.1016/j.nicl.2013.01.010Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Coben, R., Clarke, A.R., Hudspeth, W., and Barry, R. J. (2008). EEG power and coherence in autistic spectrum disorder. Clin. Neurophysiol. 119, 1002–1009.10.1016/j.clinph.2008.01.013Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychol. Bull. 112, 155–159.10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155Search in Google Scholar PubMed

David, O., Cosmelli, D., and Friston, K.J. (2003). Evaluation of different measures of functional connectivity using a neural mass model. NeuroImage 21, 659–673.10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.10.006Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Duffy, F.H. and Als, H. (2012). A stable pattern of EEG spectral coherence distinguishes children with autism from neuro-typical controls-a large case control study. BMC Med. 10, 1–18.10.1186/1741-7015-10-64Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Duffy, F.H., Shankardass, A., McAnulty, G.B., and Als, H. (2013). The relationship of asperger’s syndrome to autism: a preliminary EEG coherence study. BMC Med. 11, 1–12.10.1186/1741-7015-11-175Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Dunn, W. (1999). Sensory Profile (San Antonio, TX, USA: The Psychological Corporation).Search in Google Scholar

Dunn, W. (2014). Sensory Profile 2: User’s Manual (San Antonio, TX, USA: The Psychological Corporation).Search in Google Scholar

Elhabashy, H., Raafat, O., Afifi, L., Raafat, H., and Abdullah, K. (2015). Quantitative EEG in autistic children. Egypt. J. Neurol. Psychiatry Neurosurg. 52, 176–182.10.4103/1110-1083.162031Search in Google Scholar

Elsabbagh, M., Divan, G., Koh, Y.J., Kim, Y.S., Kauchali, S., Marcin, C., Montiel-Nava, C., Patel, V., Paula, C.S., Wang, C., et al. (2012). Global prevalence of autism and other pervasive developmental disorders. Autism Res. 5, 160–179.10.1002/aur.239Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Frye, R.E. (2015). Prevalence, significance and clinical characteristics of seizures, epilepsy and subclinical electrical activity in autism. N. Am. J. Med. Sci. 3, 113–122.Search in Google Scholar

Gould, J. and Ashton-Smith, J. (2011). Missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis? Girls and women on the autism spectrum. GAP 12, 34–41.Search in Google Scholar

Hochhauser, M. and Engel-Yeger, B. (2010). Sensory processing abilities and their relation to participation in leisure activities among children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD). Res. Autism Spectr. Disord. 4, 746–754.10.1016/j.rasd.2010.01.015Search in Google Scholar

Isler, J.R., Martien, K.M., Grieve, P.G., Stark, R.I., and Herbert, M.R. (2010). Reduced functional connectivity in visual evoked potentials in children with autism spectrum disorder. Clin. Neurophysiol. 121, 2035–2043.10.1016/j.clinph.2010.05.004Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Jeste, S.S. and Nelson, C.A. (2009). Event related potentials in the understanding of autism spectrum disorders: an analytical review. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 39, 495–510.10.1007/s10803-008-0652-9Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Jochaut, D., Lehongre, K., Saltovitch, A., Devauchelle, A.D., Olasagasti, I., Chabane, N., and Giraud, A.L. (2015). Aypical coordination of cortical oscillations in response to speech in autism. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 171, 1–12.Search in Google Scholar

Kern, J., Trivedi, M., Garver, C., Grannemann, B., Andrews, A., and Salva, J. (2006). The pattern of sensory processing abnormalities in autism. Autism 10, 480–494.10.1177/1362361306066564Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Lai, M.C., Lombardo, M.V., and Baron-Cohen, S. (2014). Autism. Lancet 383, 896–910.10.1016/S0140-6736(13)61539-1Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Landa, L., Krpoun, Z., Kolarova, M., and Kasparek, T. (2014). Event-related potentials and their applications. Act. Nerv. Super. 56, 17–23.10.1007/BF03379603Search in Google Scholar

Lane, A., Molloy, C., and Bishop, S. (2014). Classification of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder by sensory subtype: a case for sensory-based phenotypes. Autism Res. 7, 322–333.10.1002/aur.1368Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Lazarev, V.V., Pontes, A., Mitrofanov, A.A., and deAzevedo, L.C. (2010). Interhemispheric asymmetry in EEG photic driving coherence in childhood autism. Clin. Neurophysiol. 121, 145–152.10.1016/j.clinph.2009.10.010Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Lazarev, V.V., Pontes, A., Mitrofanov, A.A., and deAzevedo, L.C. (2015). Reduced interhemispheric connectivity in childhood autism detected by electroencephalographic photic driving coherence. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 45, 537–547.10.1007/s10803-013-1959-8Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Linden, M. and Gunkelman, J. (2013). QEEG-Guided Neurofeedback for Autism: Clinical Observations and Outcomes. Imaging the Brain in Autism. M.L. Casanova, A.S. El-Baz and J.S. Suri, eds. (New York, NY. USA: Springer), pp. 45–60.10.1007/978-1-4614-6843-1_3Search in Google Scholar

Lord, C., Rutter, M., and Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 24, 659–685.10.1007/BF02172145Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E.H., Leventhal, B.L., DiLavore, P.C., Pickles, A., and Rutter, M. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 30, 205–223.10.1023/A:1005592401947Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Ludlow, A., Mohr, B., Whitmore, A., Garagnani, M., Pulvermuller, F., and Gutierrez, R. (2014). Auditory processing and sensory behaviours in children with autism spectrum disorders as revealed by mismatch negativity. Brain Cogn. 86, 55–63.10.1016/j.bandc.2014.01.016Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Lyall, K., Croen, L., Daniels, J., Fallin, M.D., Ladd-Acosta, C., Lee, B.K., Lee, B.K., Park, B.Y., Snyder, N.W., Schendel, D., et al. (2017). The changing epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders. Ann. Rev. Public Health 38, 81–102.10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031816-044318Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Machado, C., Estévez, M., Leisman, G., Melillo, R., Rodríguez, R., DeFina, P., Hernández, A., Pérez-Nellar, J., Naranjo, R., Chinchilla, M., et al. (2015). QEEG spectral and coherence assessment of autistic children in three different experimental conditions. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 45, 406–424.10.1007/s10803-013-1909-5Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Marco, E.J., Hinkley, L.B., Hill, S.S., and Nagarajan, S.S. (2011). Sensory processing in autism: a review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatr. Res. 69, 48R–54R.10.1203/PDR.0b013e3182130c54Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Mathewson, K.J., Jetha, M.K., Drmic, I.E., Bryson, S.E., Goldberg, J.O., and Schmidt, L.A. (2012). Regional EEG alpha power, coherence, and behavioral symptomatology in autism spectrum disorder. Clin. Neurophysiol. 123, 1798–1809.10.1016/j.clinph.2012.02.061Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Matlis, S., Boric, K., Chu, C.J., and Kramer, M.A. (2015). Robust disruptions in electroencephalogram cortical oscillations and large-scale functional networks in autism. BMC Neurol. 15, 1–17.10.1186/s12883-015-0355-8Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Maxwell, C.R., Villalobos, M.E., Schultz, T.R., Herpertz-Dahlmann, B., Konrad, K., and Kohls, G. (2015). Atypical laterality of resting gamma oscillations in autism spectrum disorders. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 45, 292–297.10.1007/s10803-013-1842-7Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Milne, E. (2011). Increased intra-participant variability in children with autistic spectrum disorders: evidence from single-trial analysis of evoked EEG. Front. Psychol. 2, 1–12.10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00051Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Mohammad-Rezazadeh, I., Frohlich, J., Loo, S.K., and Jeste, S.S. (2016). Brain connectivity in autism spectrum disorder. Curr. Opin. Neurol. 29, 137–147.10.1097/WCO.0000000000000301Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Murias, M., Webb, S.J., Greenson, J., and Dawson, G. (2007). Resting state cortical connectivity reflected in EEG coherence in individuals with autism. Biol. Psychiatry 62, 270–273.10.1016/j.biopsych.2006.11.012Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Nowicka, A., Cygan, H.B., Tacikowski, P., Ostaszewski, P., and Kus, R. (2016). Name recognition in autism: EEG evidence of altered patterns of brain activity and connectivity. Mol. Autism 7, 1–14.10.1186/s13229-016-0102-zSearch in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

O’Donnell, S., Deitz, J., Kartin, D., Nalty, T., and Dawson, G. (2012). Sensory processing, problem behavior, adaptive behavior, and cognition in preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Am. J. Occup. Ther. 66, 586–594.10.5014/ajot.2012.004168Search in Google Scholar PubMed

O’Reilly, C., Lewis, J.E., and Elsabbagh, M. (2017). Is functional brain connectivity atypical in autism? A systematic review of EEG and MEG studies. PLoS One 12, e0175870.10.1371/journal.pone.0175870Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Olejarczyk, E., Marzetti, L., Pizzella, V., and Zappasodi, F. (2017). Comparison of connectivity analyses for resting state EEG data. J. Neural Eng. 14, 1–13.10.1088/1741-2552/aa6401Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Orekhova, E.V., Elsabbagh, M., Jones, E.J., Dawson, G., Charman, T., Johnson, M.H., and Team, B. (2014). EEG hyper-connectivity in high-risk infants is associated with later autism. J. Neurodev. Disord. 6, 1866–1955.10.1186/1866-1955-6-40Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Pistorius, T., Aldrich, C., Auret, L., and Pineda, J. (2013). Early Detection of risk of autism spectrum disorder based on recurrence quantification analysis of electroencephalographic signals. Paper presented at the Neural Engineering (NER) 6th International IEEE/EMBS Conference.10.1109/NER.2013.6695906Search in Google Scholar

Reynolds, S., Lane, S., and Gennings, C. (2010). The moderating role of sensory overresponsivity in HPA activity. J. Atten. Disord. 13, 468–478.10.1177/1087054708329906Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Reynolds, S., Lane, S., and Thacker, L. (2011). Sensory processing, physiological stress, and sleep behaviors in children with and without autism spectrum disorders. OTJR 32, 246–257.10.3928/15394492-20110513-02Search in Google Scholar

Schauder, K.B. and Bennetto, L. (2016). Toward an interdisciplinary understanding of sensory dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder: an integration of the neural and symptom literatures. Front. Neurosci. 10, 1–18.10.3389/fnins.2016.00268Search in Google Scholar

Schomer, D.L. and Lopes da Silva, F.H. (2011). Niedermeyer’s Electroencephalography (Philadelphia, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins).Search in Google Scholar

Schwartz, S., Kessler, R., Gaughan, T., and Buckley, A.W. (2017). Electroencephalogram coherence patterns in autism: an updated review. Pediatr. Neurol. 67, 7–22.10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2016.10.018Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Seth, A.K., Barrett, A.B., and Barnett, L. (2015). Granger causality analysis in neuroscience and neuroimaging. J. Neurosci. 35, 3293–3297.10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4399-14.2015Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Sharpley, C., Bitsika, V., and Mills, R. (2016). Are Sensory Processing Features associated with depression in boys with an ASD? J. Autism Dev. Disord. 46, 242–252.10.1007/s10803-015-2569-4Search in Google Scholar

Simon, D.M., Damiano, C.R., Woynaroski, T., Ibanez, L.V., Murias, M., Stone, W.L., Wallace, M.T., and Cascio, C.J. (2017). Neural correlates of sensory hyporesponsiveness in toddlers at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 47, 2710–2722.10.1007/s10803-017-3191-4Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Sporns, O. (2014). Towards network substrates of brain disorders. Brain 137, 2117–2118.10.1093/brain/awu148Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Srinivasan, R. and Nunez, P.L. (2012). Electroencephalography. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. V.S. Ramchandran, ed. (Burlington, MA, USA: Academic Press), pp. 15–23.10.1016/B978-0-12-375000-6.00395-5Search in Google Scholar

Stam, C.J. and van Dijk, B.W. (2002). Synchronization likelihood: an unbiased measure of generalized synchronization in multivariate data sets. Physica D 163, 236–251.10.1016/S0167-2789(01)00386-4Search in Google Scholar

Stevenson, R.A., Siemann, J.K., Schneider, B.C., Eberly, H.E., Woynaroski, T.G., Camarata, S.M., and Wallace, M.T. (2014). Multisensory temporal integration in autism spectrum disorders. J. Neurosci. 343, 691–697.10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3615-13.2014Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Thatcher, R.W., Biver, C.J., and North, D.M. (2004). EEG and brain connectivity: a tutorial.Search in Google Scholar

Tseng, M., Fu, C., Cermak, S., Lu, L., and Shieh, J. (2011). Emotional and behavioral problems in preschool children with autism: relationship with sensory processing dysfunction. Res. Autism Spectr. Disord. 5, 1441–1450.10.1016/j.rasd.2011.02.004Search in Google Scholar

van Wijngaarden-Cremers, P., van Eeten, E., Broen, W., van Deurzen, P., Oosterling, I., and Van der Gaag, R. (2014). Gender and age differences in the core triad of impairments in Autism Spectrum Disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 44, 627–635.10.1007/s10803-013-1913-9Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Wang, J., Barstein, J., Ethridge, L.E., Mosconi, M.W., Takarae, Y., and Sweeney, J.A. (2013). Resting state EEG abnormalities in autism spectrum disorders. J. Neurodev. Disord. 5, 1–14.10.1186/1866-1955-5-24Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Webb, S.J., Bernier, R., Henderson, H.A., Johnson, M.H., Jones, E.J.H., Lerner, M.D., McPartland, J.C., Nelson, C.A., Rojas, D.C., Townsend, J., et al. (2015). Guidelines and best practices for electrophysiological data collection, analysis and reporting in autism. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 45, 425–443.10.1007/s10803-013-1916-6Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Received: 2018-07-02
Accepted: 2018-08-03
Published Online: 2018-10-01
Published in Print: 2019-07-26

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston