Sensory Integration and the Autistic Spectrum

Read All About It...

If you work with the ASD population of clients, you may want to surf the net and read about some of the latest academic discussions about sensory integration and autism, including a response written by Jane Case-Smith and Roseanne Schaaf see 

AOTA President Florence Clark’s Response on Behalf of AOTA to the AAP’s Policy Statement on SI Therapy  see


Related articles and websites include:

From the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement - Sensory Integration Therapies for Children With Developmental and Behavioral Disorders - SECTION ON COMPLEMENTARY AND INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE and COUNCIL ON CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES see


The AOTA September 2012 Journal is a special edition about the Austistic Spectrum and is available to BJOT members free via it features this article Schaaf RC, Blanche EI. Emerging as leaders in autism research and practice: using the data-driven intervention process. Am J Occup Ther. 2012 Sep;66(5):503-5. Well worth a read.

Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Healy, O., Rispoli, M., Lydon, H., Streusand, W.,...Giesbers, S. (2012). Sensory integration therapy for autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 1004–1018 see for a copy.


Devlin, S., Healy, O., Leader, G., & Hughes, B. M. (2011). Comparison of behavioral intervention and sensory-integration therapy in the treatment of challenging behavior. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 1303-1310.doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1149-x  

  • Comparison of behavioral intervention and sensory-integration therapy in the treatment of challenging behavior. Schaaf R, Blanche EI. J Autism Dev Disord. 2011 Oct;41(10):1436-8; author reply 1439-41. No abstract available. PMID: 21667199 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
  • Healy, O., Hughes, B. M., Leader, G., & Devlin, S. (2011). Response to a letter to the editors re: “Comparison of behavioral intervention and sensory-integration therapy in the treatment of challenging behavior”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 139-1441.


More about SI and ASC...

Sensory Integration is commonly a therapy of choice for those working with people who have a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder and who have difficulties with sensory experience and have related sometimes sensory based 'challenging behaviours'.  Some people may crave more sensory input and engaging in sensory seeking behaviours and for some sensory input can bee too much, those who are sensory sensitive - sometimes also called sensory defensiveness.

For many years lack of clear robust clinical studies and empirical evidence about sensory processing difficulties and how these relate to ability to engage in daily life.  This has included not having a safe clinical way to measure changes in the brain including before and after therapy.  This has disadvantaged sensory integration therapy.

However, new methods using new technology means this is changing, and there is a growing scientific knowledge base supporting the concepts that underpin sensory integration theory.

  • In a recent study by Russo et al, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have provided new evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) process sensory information including sound, touch and vision differently to typically developing children.[1]

This research provides support for decades of clinical and anecdotal observations by therapists practising sensory integration therapy that individuals with ASD have difficulty coping with multiple sources of sensory information. These findings offer an opportunity for occupational therapists to develop objective measures to facilitate more empirical evaluation and understanding of sensory processing disorders and sensory integration therapy.

  • In a more recent study, Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital and the University of Utah have developed the most accurate biological test for autism. 
  • The new Lange-Lainhart test is able to detect the disorder in individuals with high-functioning autism with 94 percent accuracy. The test is an MRI scan that measures differences in directional flow to and from brain, using an MRI sensitive to water diffusion along the axons of the brain.
  • The tests results for those with autism correlate with clinical symptoms that are part of the features of autism, there is less directional flow to and from brain regions where there should be more information exchange. [2]

For therapists this is an exciting development.  It  mirrors the clinical experience of individuals, parents, carers and therapists working with those who have both sensory processing difficulties and autism.  

Registration, processing and integration of sensory input impacts on all aspects of everyday life and difficulties with sensory processing and sensory integration may be related to some coping behaviours that are sometimes considered challenging by other people.


  1. Natalie Russo et al. Multisensory processing in children with autism: high-density electrical mapping of auditory-somatosensory integration. Autism Research, August 17, 2010
  2. McLean Hospital (2010, December 2). Major step toward first biological test for autism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 5, 2010, from


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