International Meeting for Autism Research: An Occupational Therapy Intervention for Sensory Differences In Children with Autism

An Occupational Therapy Intervention for Sensory Differences In Children with Autism

Thursday, May 12, 2011
Elizabeth Ballroom E-F and Lirenta Foyer Level 2 (Manchester Grand Hyatt)
9:00 AM
R. C. Schaaf1, T. Benevides2, D. Kelly3, Z. Mailloux4, J. Hunt5, P. Faller5, E. VanHooydonk3, C. Neuwirth3 and R. Freeman3, (1)Occupational Therapy, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, (2)Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, United States, (3)Children's Specialized Hospital, New Brunswick, NJ, (4)Pediatic Therapy Network, Torrance, CA, United States, (5)Occupational Therapy, Children's Specialized Hospital, New Brunswick, NJ

Upwards of 90% of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) demonstrate unusual responses to sensory stimuli or sensory differences such as extreme sensitivity to auditory or tactile stimuli, excessive seeking of deep pressure touch, or craving of oral stimulation by chewing on clothing or non-food items.  Our work, to date, shows that families report that these sensory differences create social isolation for them and their child, significantly restricting full participation in daily activities.  Consequently, interventions to address sensory differences are among the most often requested services, and, although data on their effectiveness is promising, more rigorous trials are needed. 


To address this need, our program of research recently completed a feasibility study of an occupational therapy intervention protocol for sensory differences. The specific aims of this study are to:  1) Evaluate the feasibility of an intervention protocol that utilizes evidence-based, theory driven occupational therapy strategies designed to address sensory differences in a cohort of children ages 4-8, diagnosed with autism; 2) Determine whether therapists are able to provide the intervention in a way that is in keeping with its principles and practices as outline in the protocol.


The design of the proposed studies is based on recommendations in the literature for design and conduction of psychosocial intervention studies in autism (Smith, Scahill, Dawson, et al, 2007).  Following this model, we present the findings from 10 case studies.  Children diagnoses with autism using the ADOS and ADI-r whose IQ scores were above 65 were included in the study and received the intervention for 6 weeks.  Data on safety, feasibility, parent and therapists satisfaction and therapists fidelity are presented.  Behavioral outcomes include measures of adaptive behavior, sensory behaviors, and participation in activities of daily living, as well as individual, parent-identified goals. 


Data shows that this intervention is feasible and safe, that parents are satisfied with the intervention, and that it is replicable (therapists are able to obtain fidelity to the intervention) (Author, et al submitted).  In addition, outcomes are in the hypothesized direction (improvement) with statistical significant improvements in individual, parent-identified goals. 

Conclusions:  The data supports the next steps in evaluating the efficacy of this intervention and a randomized controlled trial has been initiated. 

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