Sensory Integration Therapy( SIT) offers promising results for people diagnosed with autism
Sensory Integration therapy was proven efficient in helping people diagnosed with autism who are dealing with sensory challenges.
In a recent study, 5 autistic boys who received SIT for 10 weeks, each session lasting up to 30 minutes, have shown improvements in certain autistic traits. It was observed that while participating in occupational therapy intervention, with emphasis on sensory integration, the five subjects made gains in goal-directed play (mastery play)and engagement, four subjects demonstrated fewer non engaged behaviour, of the five children two demonstrated interaction with adults more than 25% of the time during the intervention phase.
The subjects who underwent the Sensory Integration Therapy in this study, were exposed to three types of sensory stimulation:
Vestibular stimulation, which was done through the use of suspended swings (e.g., the frog and bolster swings) and other therapy equipment that provided linear movement. This technique has been shown to improve eye contact in autistic boys. This may be because brain-stem centers, which some studies suggest are dysfunctional in autistic children, modulate both general sensory input and motor excitation and may play a role in the elaboration of the more complex adaptive and motivated behaviors that are also disturbed in autism.
Tactile (brushing) consists in brushing the child’s limbs using a specific designed brush with soft bristles. This technique aims to calm and relax the patient and also reduce anxiety. It must be done by a professional occupational therapist (OT) or under the guidance of an OT.
Proprioceptive input to trunk and limbs were applied at the beginning and end of the therapy session. This is because people diagnosed with autism may have proprioceptive difficulties, which means a decreased postural control and motor planning, decreased organization of space and poor motor anticipation.
The proprioceptive input technique consists in encouraging the child to do a varied number of activities to stimulate sensory related responses, which can be: jumping on a foam sack, placing a heavy blanket on the child or a compression vest or simply wrestling.
How did researchers evaluate the subject’s improvements on their specific sensory issues?
The following observations were made at the end of the sensory integration therapy, using categories of engagement to evaluate the results of the therapy. They are as follows:
Mastery play, which is the child’s ability to interact with the physical environment in an exploratory or goal-directed manner.
Nonengagement, which is when the child is not interacting or is minimally, interacting with the environment. Examples are unfocused staring or aimless wandering. This category includes interaction that is inappropriate for the context or the child’s developmental level, for example, stereotypic behaviour or spinning.
Adult interaction, which is the child ability to interact with adults physically or verbally, using behaviors that are developmentally and contextually appropriate.
Peer interaction, which is the ability for the child to interact with peers physically or verbally, using behaviours that are developmentally and contextually appropriate.
Another study on the effectiveness of sensory Integration interventions, for people diagnosed with autism, has found that there was significant progress toward individualized goals and a decrease in autistic mannerisms for the participants. They received 18 treatment interventions of 45 min each, over a 6-wk period.
It is important to note that a licensed occupational therapist professional is the one enabled to correctly apply such sensory integration therapy techniques, and should be the one guiding parents on how to use some of these techniques at home.