In one of the first randomized control trials studying an intervention for sensory problems in children with autism, researchers found that occupational therapy using the principles of sensory integration (OT-SI) provided better outcomes on parent-identified goals than standard care, according to results published November 10th in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
OT-SI therapy for autism is based on the premise that difficulty interpreting sensory information affects the ability to participate fully in everyday activities including eating, dressing, learning and play activities. Typical sensations are often perceived as distracting or distressing for children with Autism. “Some children will scream and hold their hands over their ears when the toilet flushes, or can’t tolerate certain textures of clothing,” says Thomas Jefferson University occupational therapist and neuroscientist Roseann Schaaf, Ph.D., from, the lead investigator on the study. “Others don’t use sensation from their body to guide movements and thus have difficulty participating in active play and other movement activities. When we get improved processing of sensation, the children are often better able to participate in everyday tasks,” she says. Schaaf and colleagues collaborated with Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey where the children were treated.
The current standard of care is behavioral training, which reinforces properly completed tasks, but can take up to 25 to 40 hours per week for up to 2 years to see a change in behavior. Instead, Schaaf and colleagues used sensory integration strategies, a form of treatment that is frequently requested by parents. This intervention identifies the type of sensory difficulties and then designs playful activities to help make sense of the sensation. Significantly less time consuming, the intervention was performed three hours per week for 10 weeks.