Ask a researcher – What is the evidence basis for sensory processing interventions?

Boy in ball pit

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If a child appears to present with sensory processing difficulties such as discomfort in noisy environments, mouthing of objects, picking at skin; is there any benefit to seek therapy for sensory processing. If so, can you suggest any particular therapy?

Answer:

Therapies to address sensory issues in ASD have been around for a while. Unfortunately there is no strong evidence that they work or add anything over and above standard behavioural treatments, such as ABA based therapies.

The research on non-standard therapies is either non-existent or poorly designed, so that conclusions about effectiveness can’t be drawn.

There are a couple of websites that provide further information. One is an Australian website: The Raising Children’s Network , and specifically on sensory integration therapy.

Another website is from the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) in the US, and specific treatments.

For research info on other interventions from ASAT click here.

On the ASAT website, an article reviewing the evidence for sensory therapies is quoted as saying: “There exist so few studies that conclusions cannot be drawn” (p. 419). This article is by Dawson, G., & Watling, R. (2000). Interventions to facilitate auditory, visual, and motor integration in autism: A review of the evidence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 415-421. This article can be downloaded here.

As far as we know, not much has changed in this field since 2000, the year of the above publication. Consequently, we cannot recommend any particular sensory processing therapy, because the evidence for effectiveness is just not available yet.

Compiled by Dr Elfriede Ihsen, OTARC Ask a Researcher Service

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