Typical sensations can often be distracting or distressing for autistic children. For example, sometimes they can’t tolerate specific sounds or textures.
“Others don’t use sensation from their body to guide movements and thus have difficulty participating in active play and other movement activities,” says Dr. Roseann Schaaf.
OT-SI therapy for autism is based on the idea that an autistic child’s difficulty interpreting sensory information affects their ability to participate fully in everyday activities such as eating, dressing, and learning.
Currently, the standard care for autism involves behavioral training where properly completed tasks are reinforced. But this type of training is time consuming—it can take 25 to 40 hours per week for 2 years to see a change in behavior.
The children in the study were treated at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. 32 children, ages 4-8, were randomly put in either an occupational therapy group or a standard care group.
For occupational therapy, sensory integration strategies are used. The type of sensory difficulties are identified and then playful activities are designed to help autistic children make sense of the sensation. This is significantly less time consuming than behavioral training, as it is only performed three hours per week for ten weeks.
One goal that parents wanted their child to attain for example, was taking a shower without becoming distressed. Behavioral therapy rewards the child each time they increase their time spent in the shower. An occupational therapist assesses what sensory factors are affecting the child during this activity. They take into consideration the child’s ability to manage their body sensations, as well as auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory sensations during the shower. The occupational therapist then uses this information to create playful activities that specifically address these difficulties and actively engage the child.
“One approach is shaping the behavior. The other is addressing the sensory needs, and helping children manage them better,” explains Schaaf.
In the study, the children in the occupational group scored significantly higher on achieving what their parents had set out as their goals. To make sure that this was a controlled trial, the investigators who assessed the children’s behavior weren’t told which therapy the children had gone through. A standardized test of functional skills also determined that children receiving the occupational therapy intervention needed less help from their parents in self-care activities and socialization. Problem behaviors associated with poor sensory processing also was improved in children who were given occupational therapy.
For more information on autism treatment programs, please visit out website here: http://www.icare4autism.org/what-is-autism/treatments/
By: Rachel Schranck