Therapist FAQs

Q: What evidence is there that occupational therapy “works” for treating SPD?

A: The American Journal of Occupational Therapy in March-April 2007 published the first research study ever to evaluate the outcome of occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach (OT-SI) that met all four criteria of a randomized control trial (RCT). This study was the culmination of ten years of research by the SPD Foundation and addressed the methodological limitations of the estimated 80 previous studies of treatment effectiveness.

The question posed by the trial: Is OT-SI effective in ameliorating the difficulties of children with Sensory Over-Responsivity compared to a placebo treatment and no treatment (a comparison of three groups). Children in the OT-SI group received OT with a sensory integration approach twice a week for 10 weeks. The treatment was ÒmanualizedÓ (based on a written manual) using principles proposed by Dr. A. Jean Ayres, who first identified sensory integration dysfunction (now called SPD).

The results: Compared with children who received an alternative treatment or no treatment at all, children with Sensory Over-Responsivity who received OT-SI made statistically significant improvements on several key measures including cognitive and social measures and parent priorities for changes.

The study group was small – 24 children – so caution is required in interpreting the results. Even so, the research represents a landmark as the first scientifically rigorous study of the effectiveness of OT-SI, and the results are promising for helping children with sensory challenges.

Q: Can children who have an autistic spectrum disorder also have Sensory Processing Disorder?

A: A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR, who developed sensory integration theory and therapy, and another well-known occupational therapist, Lorna Jean King, believe that many children with autism also have Sensory Processing Disorder. The presence of SPD, they believe, contributes to many of the behavioral and learning problems experienced by children with autistic spectrum disorders, such as over- or under-reactivity to sensations and problems in making sense of auditory and visual input to understand and use language. Pilot research by the SPD Foundation indicates that as many as 80% of children with autism also have SPD. (The reverse is not true.)

To learn more about autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, visit Our Library. You may also want to read some of Temple Grandin’s books. Dr. Grandin has a type of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome and also has sensory and perceptual disorders. She has earned a PhD in animal science and is one of the world’s foremost experts in the design and construction of livestock facilities. She believes her diagnosis is also a gift, giving her an extraordinary ability to visualize events and interactions in her mind. In her books she describes how she learned to accommodate to the “regular” world. You can find her books at “Autism: Handle with Care!” and “Thinking in Pictures.”

Q: Can you suggest some books or other materials I can read on Sensory Processing Disorder?

A: You will find additional materials – activity books, books for teachers, textbooks, sensory products, music, CDs, and videotapes – under Books.