Sensory integration

Sensory integration

What is sensory integration therapy?

Sensory integration is a therapy-based intervention, which people usually do with an occupational therapist. For example, an occupational therapist might design and implement an individual program of sensory experiences for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who is sensory integration therapy for?

Sensory integration therapy is for people who have sensory integrative dysfunction, or who have trouble understanding sensory input. This might include children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What is sensory integration therapy used for?

Sensory integration therapy is used to help children learn to use all their senses together - that is, touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. It's claimed that this therapy can improve the challenging behaviour that's caused by difficulties with processing sensory information.

Where does sensory integration therapy come from?

The idea of sensory integrative dysfunction was first proposed 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 sensory integration therapy?

Most people experience events that stimulate more than one sense at the same time. 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 autism spectrum disorder (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 sensory integration therapy 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.

Does sensory integration therapy work?

More high-quality research is needed to find out whether this therapy works. Several studies have noted that the therapy has negative effects like increased self-harming behaviour and increased repetitive movements like arm waving or body rocking.

Who practises sensory integration therapy?

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

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is having sensory integration therapy, you implement some of the activities at home as part of the program. The occupational therapist might prepare a written plan and teach you the techniques to use at home.

Where can you find a practitioner?

You can find an occupational therapist by going to Occupational Therapy Australia - Find a private practice OT. Check that the occupational therapist is trained in sensory integration.

If you're interested in sensory integration therapy, it's a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child's options.