Neurological Research Tells Us Sensory Integration Therapy Works

Sensory integration therapy for children with autism can help develop their ability to navigate the world around them and improve their quality of life.

Children with autism often have trouble understanding and processing information provided by their senses: scents, sounds, movements, and visual perception. Sensory integration therapy for children with autism utilizes naturally engaging activities and playtime to help a child better process the stimulation and input they receive from their environment.

What Is Sensory Integration Therapy?

For children with autism and other related intellectual and developmental disabilities, sensory input that seems “normal” to a typical developing child can go completely unnoticed or cause an adverse reaction. A flickering lightbulb, an unexpected sound, or even irregular motion can be sensory overload. The child does not know how to process or react to all of the stimulation they are receiving. Some children with autism may not register the stimulation at all, leading to sensory-seeking activities that could actually cause injury, like coming in contact with loud machines or burning stoves.

Sensory integration therapy helps both groups of children adjust the way they respond to stimulation and visual cues. This form of treatment for autism helps children interact more easily with familiar and unfamiliar settings. By exposing children purposely to sensory stimulation during play, an occupational therapist can help a child learn how to react positively to sensations.

Sensory Integration Activities

Most sensory integration activities look like fun because they are modeled on playtime. From throwing a ball while seated on a swing or other moving surface, a child can learn to process a variety of sensations at once and better cope with the wide variety of tasks and decisions. The approach is different for every child. An occupational therapist will design a sensory plan to target specific goals and needs. Most plans begin with basic activities like swinging, jumping, or bouncing and then progress to more complex and challenging motions.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sensory integration therapy can help gradually improve a child’s skills and responses to sensory input over time. The AAP recommends that sensory integration therapy be utilized as part of a comprehensive treatment for autism specifically designed to support each child’s particular needs:

  • Joint compressions, heavy blankets, and pressure vests provide a deep, calming pressure for children with sensory defensiveness, which is a negative reaction to touch and texture.
  • Movement activities such as jumping, climbing, and spinning stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear. Children with vestibular sensory sensitivities could avoid movement entirely or appear to be hyperactive as they seek out impact and activity.
  • Equine therapy helps strengthen a child’s spatial awareness. The movement of the horse provides sensory and proprioceptive feedback(position and movement information) from muscles and joints. This treatment for autism stimulates muscles as children make adjustments and work with the animal as it moves.

Activities that provide tactile stimulation can also help children who have issues with the feel of clothing, the texture of food, or even being touched or hugged. Some children with autism have trouble coordinating and planning gross motor skill-related tasks, from navigating a playground to climbing onto a chair. Children with proprioceptive feedback issues may seem overly clumsy or even lose track of what they are doing in the middle of a task. From playing with clay to successfully climbing onto a swing and swinging, proprioceptive tasks can help improve a child’s fine and gross motor skills.

If you would like to learn more about treatment for autism in Little Rock, contact Integrity, Inc. at 501-406-0442. Since 1989, Integrity, Inc. has been providing patience, love, and understanding to Arkansas families through community-based services for people with developmental disabilities, ensuring that they may remain as independent as possible.

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