Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sensory Integration: Changing the Brain through Play

This month, researchers with Philadelphia’s Farber Institute of Neuroscience published a ground-breaking study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. This study is among the first scientifically rigorous clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of occupational therapy using sensory integration (OT-SI) for improving the ability of children with autism to participate meaningfully in daily life. [Read our news story on this study’s findings here.] The new study is important because it used a randomized, controlled trial to assess OT-SI intervention while assuring that it was delivered in a way that met all the characteristics of sensory integration intervention. It showed that children who received OT-SI in addition to their other autism treatments achieved greater improvements in their ability to function in daily life than did children who received the same standard autism treatments without OT-SI. As the autism community knows well, many individuals with autism have difficulty processing and integrating sensory information. These sensitivities can create great barriers to participating in daily life for those with autism and their families. As a result, interventions that address sensory difficulties are among the most requested by parents of children with autism. Unfortunately, OT-SI – which can change brain function – is sometimes confused with other sensory-based strategies that help calm individuals but don’t have long term effects. Examples of the latter include weighted blankets and compression vests. OT-SI has also remained poorly understood, in part, I think, because it looks like mere play. To the uninformed onlooker, it can be hard to see the serious neuroscience beneath the play. I’d like to use a classic scenario to illustrate.

 Read more here.