Unusual sensory responses are relatively common in children with ASD and often one of the earliest indicators of autism in childhood. Although considered a “nontriadic” feature, when present, sensory issues may interfere with performance in many developmental and functional domains across home and school contexts. Best practice guidelines indicate that when needed, educational programs for children with ASD should integrate an appropriately structured physical and sensory milieu in order to accommodate any unique sensory processing challenges.
Sensory integration (SI) therapy is often used individually or as a component of a broader program of occupational therapy for children with ASD. While sensory activities may be helpful as part of an overall educational program, we have no reliable and convincing empirical evidence that sensory-based treatments have specific effects. It should be noted, however, that a lack of empirical data does not infer that the intervention or treatment is ineffective, but rather that efficacy has not been objectively demonstrated or validated. Interventions to address sensory related problems, when utilized, should be integrated at various levels into the student’s individualized educational program (IEP). Comprehensive educational programming may also include consultation with knowledgeable professionals (e.g. occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, physical therapists, adaptive physical educators) to provide guidance about potential interventions for children whose sensory processing or motoric difficulties interfere with educational performance.
All interventions and treatments should be based on sound theoretical constructs, robust methodologies, and empirical studies of effectiveness. Different approaches to intervention have been found to be effective for children with autism, and no comparative research has been conducted that demonstrates one approach is superior to another. The selection of specific interventions should be based on goals developed from a comprehensive assessment of each child’s unique needs and family preferences. A more detailed discussion of assessment domains (e.g. communication, social, sensory, academic) can be found in “A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools.”
©Lee A. Wilkinson