Sensory Integrative Therapy (Sensory Integration, SI, or SIT)

Description: An intervention in which the participant receives sensory stimulation with the goal of improving attention and cognitive functioning, while decreasing disruptive or repetitive behaviors. Examples include brushing the body, compressing the elbows and knees, swinging from a hammock suspended from a ceiling, and spinning around and around on a scooter board. Examples of sensory diet interventions include wearing a weighted vest or wristbands, putting a body sock on the participant, or massaging the child’s mouth or other body parts. Sensory Integrative Therapy is often supervised by an occupational therapist.

Research Summary: Although Sensory Integrative Therapy has been a popular intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders since the 1970s, reviewers have concluded, “There exist so few studies that conclusions cannot be drawn” (Dawson & Watling, p. 419).

Recommendations: An important area for future research is to evaluate Sensory Integration in studies with strong experimental designs. Professionals should present Sensory Integration as untested and encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate it carefully.

Selected References:

Specific studies

Schaaf, R. C., Benevides, T., Mailloux, Z., Faller, P., Hunt, J., van Hooydonk, E., … Kelly, D. (2014). An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism: A Randomized Trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(7), 1493–1506. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-013-1983-8

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Smith, T., Mruzek, D., & Mozingo, D. Sensory Integrative Therapy. In R. M. Foxx & J. A. Mulick (Eds.) (2016). Controversial Therapies for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities: Fads, Fashion and Science in Professional Practice. (pp. 247-269). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hodgetts, S., Magill-Evans, J., Misiaszek, J.E. (2011). Weighted Vests, Stereotyped Behaviors and Arousal in Children with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 805–814 doi: 10.1007/s10803-010-1104-x

Williames, L. D., & Erdie-Lalana, C. R. (2009). Complementary, holistic, and integrative medicine: Sensory Integration. Pediatrics in Review, 30, e91-e93.

Smith, T., Mruzek, D., & Mozingo, D. Sensory Integrative Therapy. In J. W. Jacobson & R. M. Foxx (Eds.) (2005)., Fads, dubious and improbable treatments for developmental disabilities. (pp. 331-350). Mahwah, NJ: Laurence Erlbaum Associates

Dawson, G., & Watling, R. (2000). Interventions to facilitate auditory, visual, and motor integration in autism: A review of the evidence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 415-421.

Related articles: 

An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with autism: a randomized trial

Environment enrichment as treatment for autism: A randomized controlled trial

Effects of weighted vests on the engagement of children with developmental delays and autism

Effectiveness of Sensory Integration Interventions in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study

The Use and the Efficacy of Weighted Vests

Comparison of Behavioral Intervention and Sensory-Integration Therapy in the Treatment of Challenging Behavior

Putting a Dead Horse in a Weighted Vest: Another Review of Sensory Integration Training