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Autism Therapies: ABA, RDI, and Sensory Therapies

What are sensory integration and related therapies?

Many children with autism have sensory problems. Some are overly sensitive to stimuli such as lights, noises, and touch. Others are not sensitive enough.

There are a number of sensory therapies that have been shown to improve the sensory problems children with autism have. Although these therapies can help, there is no scientific documentation that sensory therapies are effective in treating autism.

How does sensory therapy work?

Therapists skilled in conducting sensory therapy for autism work one-on-one with the child. The goal is to help regulate the child's reaction to external stimuli.

For example, if the child is hypersensitive to being touched, the therapist will work to desensitize the child over time to tactile stimulation. The therapist might firmly stroke the child's skin with different textured fabrics. The purpose is to accustom the child to the sensations. The therapist strives to make the activities enjoyable and game-like for the child. That way, sensory therapy does not become overwhelming for the child. The child is not forced to do anything. But the therapist does need to push the child's boundaries to help the child improve.

Various sensory therapies can be used to address a variety of problems that affect children with autism. For example, spinning in a chair can reduce hyperactivity in some children with autism. And deep pressure stimulation may also be calming. One way a therapist may apply this pressure is by safely rolling children up in mats. Other sensory therapies may include swinging, vibration therapy, and aerobic exercise.

Is sensory therapy right for my child and me?

Unlike ABA training and RDI training, sensory therapy for autism does not require a major time commitment from you or your child.

You and your child's therapist may need to experiment with a variety of therapeutic options to determine which ones help your child improve (your developmental pediatrician or neurologist also can provide guidance). If a therapy is going to work, it typically yields results relatively quickly. The degree of improvement that can be obtained by sensory therapy depends upon the child.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan G Weintraub, MD on May 12, 2013

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