Sensory integrative therapy (also known as sensory integration training or Ayres sensory integration) is an intervention designed to help children with poor sensory integration. Sensory integration is the ability to receive, process, and make sense of multiple sensory inputs at the same time.
Poor sensory integration can lead to all sorts of practical difficulties. For example, some people who have poor sensory integration may have a poor awareness of, and control of, their own body. Because of this they may appear to be clumsy as well as socially awkward.
In sensory integrative therapy a therapist assesses a person’s ability to integrate sensory information. They then develop a personalised treatment programme which provides the person with various sensory experiences.
These therapeutic experiences are designed to provide a “just right” challenge that is just above the person’s level of capacity. For example, a child with a poor awareness of their body in space may be encouraged to hold onto a trapeze swing and then drop into a ball pit.
Sensory integrative therapy involves direct one-to-one supervision by a trained professional (such as an occupational therapist or physiotherapist) and is designed to be fun, as well as challenging. It therefore usually takes place in a room with specially designed play equipment (such as trapeze swings, carpeted barrels and trampolines).
There is a very small amount of high quality research evidence (five group studies) and a small amount of low quality research (seven single-case design studies with three or more participants) into the use of sensory integrative therapy for children and young people on the autism spectrum. There is one, very small single-case design study which looked at autistic adults.
This research is inconclusive, with some studies finding positive results and some studies finding limited or no results. Because of this we cannot determine if sensory integrative therapy provides any benefits to individuals on the autism spectrum.
There is a need for more research into sensory integrative therapy which uses scientifically robust, experimental methodologies with larger numbers of more diverse participants.
Future research should investigate whether sensory integrative therapy is more or less effective than other interventions designed to reduce or overcome sensory difficulties (such as weighted blankets or therapy balls). It should also investigate whether specific individuals are more likely to benefit from sensory integrative therapy than other individuals.
We believe that a careful assessment of the person’s sensory sensitivities should be carried out by a trained professional before sensory integrative therapy is carried out. That professional should ensure that the therapy follows agreed protocols. They should also define clear outcomes and objectives at the start of therapy and review these on a regular basis.
Please read our Disclaimer on Autism Interventions