Sensory Integration Helps Children with Autism

Many children with neurological problems, especially those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, have difficulty processing normal sensations. Whether this is from touch, sight, smells, tastes or sounds, the brain cannot normally process and coordinate the signals. This results in a variety of different behaviors that can alienate individual children and make it difficult for them to interact normally with their surroundings.

A recent study proves what our rehab team has known for years, that sensory integration therapy is key to helping children with neurological disorders engage and develop. This study evaluated children 4-8 years old diagnosed with Autism. Results were significantly higher for those children in the treatment group with sensory integration therapy.

What is Sensory Integration Therapy?
Sensory integration refers to our nervous system’s ability to take in sensory information and organize it for use. It is the ability of our brain and body to take in sensory messages and effortlessly organize them into behavioral, social, emotional, motor, or physiological responses that are appropriate to an outside stimulus or environmental demand. For some children and even adults, sensory messages are not efficiently organized and a disruption in motor skill development, functional abilities, and/or behavior can be the result. Sensory integration therapy is founded on these 3 assumptions:

  1. In order to learn we must take in and process sensation from movement and our environment, then use it to plan and organize adaptive behavior.
  2. If we don’t process sensation efficiently we will most likely have difficulty with learning, behavior, social and emotional development, and/or motor performance.
  3. By enhancing sensation through meaningful activity while achieving an adaptive response, we will improve the central nervous system’s ability to process sensation, thus improving learning, behavior, social and emotional development, and motor performance.

How Does it Help my Child?
The primary goal of sensory integration therapy is to improve underlying neurological processes rather than teach specific skills. In this way it is believed that the child will adapt responses that will lead to improved developmental abilities rather than teach simply adaptive skills.

The child should always be an active participant with his/her interests incorporated into the therapy sessions. For that reason, activities should be child-directed and motivating, which is why this therapy approach is presented within the context of play. This does not mean that the child dictates every moment of the therapy session, but that they lead and are guided towards activities that will have been motivated by them.

Results are promising with children who receive sensory integration therapy and they can include markedly improved abilities to control themselves and the environment around them.