One goal identified by parents was for their child to take a shower without becoming distressed and exhibiting overly disruptive behaviors. Whereas this behavior would be treated by a behavioral therapist by providing rewards for incremental increases in time spent in the shower, an occupational therapist would assess whether there were any sensory factors affecting this activity. The occupational therapist would assess the child’s ability to tolerate the water hitting their skin, or managing the auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory sensations during the shower, as well as whether the child was managing their body sensations—called proprioception—and use that information to design specific activities that address these difficulties. Then, the OT-SI therapist might work with the child in a large ball pit to decrease tactile sensitivity and improve body awareness. Importantly, the therapy is playful, and the child is actively engaged.
“One approach is shaping the behavior. The other is addressing the sensory needs and helping children manage them better,” says Schaaf.
More information on SI therapy is available from the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.
The study, An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism: A Randomized Trial, is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.