A new study from Temple University has revealed that children with autistic spectrum disorders receiving sensory integration treatment show fewer autistic mannerisms compared to those who receive standard treatments.
Autistic mannerisms include repetitive hand movements or actions, making noises, jumping or having highly restricted interests, often interfere with paying attention and learning.
Sensory integration is the ability of the brain to properly integrate and adapt to the onslaught of information coming in through the senses.
Dysfunction in this area makes it difficult for people with autism to adapt to and function like others in their environment.
The children may be hypersensitive to sound or touch, or unable to screen out distracting noise or clothing textures.
Children receiving sensory integration therapy typically participate in sensory-based activities to enable them to better regulate their behavioural responses to sensations and situations that they find disturbing or painful.
The researchers conducted the study over children between 6 to12 years and diagnosed with autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) at a summer camp.
One group of 17 children received traditional fine motor therapy and the other group of 20 received sensory integration therapy. Each child received 18 treatment sessions over a period of six weeks.
The researchers used a series of scales that measure behaviour. While both groups showed significant improvements, the children in the sensory integration group showed more progress in specific areas at the end of the study.
"This pilot study provided a foundation for how we should design randomized control trials for sensory integration interventions with larger sample sizes," said study author Beth Pfeiffer, Ph.D., OTR/L, BCP.
"Specifically, it identified issues with measurement such as the sensitivity of evaluation tools to measure changes in this population.
"Sensory integration treatment is a widely used intervention in occupational therapy. There is a real need for research such as randomized control trials to validate what we are doing with sensory integration in the profession," she added.
The study was presented this month at the American Occupational Therapy Association's 2008 conference.