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.
The current standard of care is behavioural 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 behaviour.
Neuroscientist Roseann Schaaf, the lead investigator on the study, 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.
For example, one goal identified by parents was for their child to take a shower without becoming distressed and exhibiting overly disruptive behaviours. Whereas this behaviour would be treated by a behavioural therapist by providing rewards for incremental increases in time spent in the shower, an occupational therapist would assess whether there were any sensory factors affecting this activity.
The occupational therapist would assess the child's ability to tolerate the water hitting their skin, or managing the auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory sensations during the shower, as well as whether the child was managing their body sensations-called proprioception-and use that information to design specific activities that address these difficulties.
Then, the OT-SI therapist might work with the child in a large ball pit to decrease tactile sensitivity and improve body awareness. Importantly, the therapy is playful and the child is actively engaged.
The study is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.