Sensory processing is defined as the ability to receive sensory information from the environment and the body and to respond appropriately. Self-regulation refers to the capacity to control the nature and the intensity of one’s responses. In the current study, the term Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) refers to toddlers with both sensory-processing and self-regulation difficulties.
Numerous studies have shown that primary symptoms of SPD predict developmental difficulties at an older age. SPD often occur prior to the diagnosis of autism and may be one of the first signs that a child is at risk and in need of referral for assessment and possible intervention. Thus, early identification and intervention are most important with toddlers who exhibit early signs of SPD.
The objective of the current study was to examine the effects of a brief (6-8 weekly sessions) Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (the MISC-SP) designed to enhance the quality of mothers' interactions with their toddlers who have SPD. The MISC-SP intervention had two main objectives: .1to help each mother understand the constitutional origin of her toddler’s challenging behavior and to enhance her ability to promote her child’s self-regulation and adaptive behavior by adapting her own behavior to her child’s special sensory and regulatory needs. 2. To promote each mother’s interactive behavior by enhancing her awareness of general criteria for quality parent-child interaction.
The effects of the intervention were compared to those of another intervention that was based on the Sensory Integration approach (SI) designed to enhance children's’ sensory functioning and to a control group receiving no intervention during the study. Participants were 86 toddlers (12-18 months old) with early signs of SPD and their mothers, who were randomly assigned to the aforementioned three research groups. The SI intervention was held during 8 weekly sessions. Both interventions were carried out by four Occupational Therapists who were especially trained in both intervention approaches.
Following the intervention, toddlers in the MISC-SP group improved on measures of motor behavior, communicative behavior, and responses to vestibular sensory stimulus. Toddlers in the SI group improved their communicative behavior, but significantly less than the MISC-SP group. Control group toddlers did not show improvement on any of the adaptive-developmental functioning measures. Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that the change in mothers ' behavior toward their children following the intervention explained a significant amount of the variance in toddlers' motor behavior improvements, as well as a significant amount of the variance in toddlers' improvement in interactional communication abilities.
This study demonstrated that a short-term intervention program, which targeted the quality of interactions between mothers and their toddlers with SPD, brought about an improvement in children's adaptive-developmental functioning. These outcomes support the assumption that improving mother-child interaction renders a significant effect on specific behaviors of toddlers who reveal early signs of SPD, including behaviors essential for developing self-regulation and communication abilities.
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