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Current Studies

Sensory Dysfunction in Autism funded by the NIH

Unusual responses to sensation or sensory dysfunction (SD) are extremely prevalent (80-90%) in individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and present some of the most challenging obstacles for parents and children by limiting adaptive behaviors (daily living, motor, socialization and communication skills) and participation in life activities. Occupational Therapy interventions to address SD are among the most requested and utilized services by professionals and parents of children with autism. Nevertheless, these sensory behaviors in autism is poorly characterized, its mechanisms are not well understood, and current practices to address these lack an adequate theoretical basis and empirical data to support their utility. Thus, understanding the sensory features in ASD, and developing and testing innovative approaches for it, have emerged as a critical public health concern.

The aims of this study are to:

  • Compare physiological activity at baseline and during 7 sensory challenges in 60 children with ASD to 40 typically developing gender and mental age adjusted controls;
  • Compare behavioral responses to sensation;
  • Evaluate whether physiological reactions are related to behavioral responses to sensation; and
  • Evaluate the relationship of physiological measures of SD to three domains of adaptive behavior (communication, language and self care) and 2 measures of participation in home, community and school activities.

Effectiveness of Occupational Therapy Using Sensory-based Strategies for Improving Adaptive Behavior in Children with Autism funded by Autism Speaks

Schaaf, R.C., Benevides, T., Kellly, D., & Mailloux, Z (submitted).  Occupational Therapy and Sensory Integration for Children with Autism: A Feasibility, Safety, Acceptability and Fidelity Study.  Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice.

This study evaluates whether occupational therapy using a sensory integrative approach is effective in decreasing sensory dysfunction in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children receive occupational therapy 3 times a week for the study period. After occupational therapy, the children’s ability to participate in home, school and community activities is assessed, and improvements in their sensory behaviors are measured.

The aims of this study are to:

  • Evaluate the feasibility of an intervention protocol that utilizes evidence-based, theory driven occupational therapy strategies designed to address sensory dysfunction;
  • Conduct a small controlled trial to determine, reliability and validity of outcome measures and evaluate therapists fidelity to the intervention; and
  • Conduct a randomized clinical control trial (RCT) of the intervention to evaluate its efficacy to decrease maladaptive sensory behaviors, improvement in adaptive behaviors (communication, activities of daily living and social skills) and improve participation in daily life activities (as measured by individually-defined goals).

In order to participate in this study your child:

  • Must have a clinical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) made by developmental pediatrician at an autism clinic based on meeting criteria for autism on Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R; Lord, et al 1994) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic (ADOS-G; Lord, et al., 2000);
  • Be between the ages of 4 and 8 years of age;
  • Have an IQ score > 80
  • No physical or medical complications that may affect ability to participate in the active sensory motor activities that are part of the intervention protocol such as fractures, cerebral palsy, g-tube, NG tube, etc.
  • No medical or developmental conditions that may affect sensory processing for example:
    • chromosomal abnormality such as Fragile X,
    • tuberous sclerosis,
    • significant uncorrected vision or hearing impairment
    • Retts Syndrome
  • Must be able to follow simple directions such as “stop” or “wait”;
  • Demonstrate sensory dysfunction on the Short Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1999)
  • Be able to participate in 3 visits a week at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Tom’s River, NJ during study period

Eligible participants and their family member will be asked to:

  • Travel to Children’s Specialized Hospital in Tom’s River, New Jersey 3 times a week.
  • Complete pre- and post-assessments.
  • Complete questionnaires during every treatment session.

    Note: the sponsor of the study, Autism Speaks, will pay for any additional occupational therapy treatment sessions that are not previously covered by insurance.

To participate, call Children’s Specialized Hospital at 1-888-CHILDREN and ask to speak with Linda Molinaro.

In the News

Walk Now for Autism
Each year, research assistants raise money and participate in the Walk Now for Autism event in Philadelphia. This event promotes advocacy of autism research, resources and support networks for individuals and families affected by this disability. Go here.


Contact Info:

Last Sensory Integration Laboratory at TJU
Edison Building, Suite 560D
130 South 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

(215) 503-5709

directions to lab

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