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At a glance: Sensory integration
Type of therapy
Therapy-based
The claim
Overcomes sensory problems (in particular, difficulty handling input from more than one sense at a time)
Suitable for
People who have Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, or have trouble understanding sensory input, including children with autism
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Not enough research available.
Warnings
Warning Can result in increased self-harming or self-stimulatory behaviour
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

0-10 The time commitment will depend on the specific needs of the child. Therapy can last from six months to two years, and involve 1-3 weekly sessions of up to two hours.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

$30-120 The cost of this therapy will depend on how frequently the child has sessions with an occupational therapist.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Sensory integration is a therapy-based intervention, usually undertaken with an occupational therapist. The therapist designs and implements an individual program of sensory experiences for the child with ASD.

Who is it for?
Sensory integration therapy is for people who have Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, or have trouble understanding sensory input, including children with ASD.

What is it used for?
Sensory integration therapy is used to help children learn to use all their senses together (touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing). It’s claimed this can improve the challenging behaviours that are caused by a difficulty in processing sensory information.

Where does it come from?
Sensory Integrative Dysfunction was first theorised by A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and educational psychologist, in the 1950s and 1960s. Ayres developed sensory integration therapy in the late 1970s as a treatment for children with difficulties processing sensory information.

What is the idea behind it?
Most people experience events that simultaneously stimulate more than one sense. For example, when we read a book, we see the words on the page, we hear the pages turning, and we feel the book in our hands. We might even be able to smell the book if it’s old or dusty. We take in all this varied sensory information and combine it to give us a clear understanding of the world around us.

Children with ASD can have trouble combining sensory information in this way. The idea of sensory integration therapy is to use physical activities and exercises to help children learn to interpret and use sensory information more effectively.

What does it involve?
Sensory integration therapy starts with an assessment of the child by an occupational therapist. The therapist then plans and conducts a program that includes activities to stimulate sensory responses from the child – in particular, responses to do with balance and physical movement. This might include things like swinging, bouncing or climbing.

Cost considerations
The cost of this therapy depends on the number of sessions the child has with an occupational therapist. The cost of an individual session can range from $30 to $120.

Does it work?
More high-quality research is needed to determine the effectiveness of this therapy. Several studies have noted adverse effects, such as increased self-harming behaviour, and increased repetitive movements, such as arm waving or body rocking.

Who practises this method?
Occupational therapists trained in sensory integration therapy can use this method.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents can implement some of the activities at home as part of the program. The occupational therapist might prepare a written plan for parents, and teach them the techniques for use at home.

Where can I find a practitioner?
You can find an occupational therapist through Occupational Therapy Australia. You could also contact your state autism association and ask them to recommend a service or practitioner. Make sure the occupational therapist is trained in sensory integration.

 
 
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  • Last Updated 08-05-2010
  • Last Reviewed 08-05-2010
  • MADSEC (2000). Report of the MADSEC Autism Task Force. Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities.

    National Autism Center (2009). National standards report: Addressing the need for evidence-based practice guidelines for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Massachusetts: National Autism Center.

    Perry, A., & Condillac, R. (2003). Evidence-based practices for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Review of the literature and practice guide. Ontario, Canada: Report commissioned by Children’s Mental Health.

    Roberts, J.M.A., & Prior, M. (2006). A review of the research to identify the most effective models of practice in early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

    Sensory Integration International (1991). A parent's guide to understanding sensory integration. Torrance, CA: Sensory Integration International.

    Weiss, M.J., Fiske, K., & Ferraioli, S. (2008). Evidence-based practice for autism spectrum disorders. In J. Matson (Ed.), Clinical assessement and intervention for autism spectrum disorders (pp. 33-63). Amsterdam: Academic.