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This study evaluated a manualized intervention for sensory difficulties for children with autism, ages 4-8 years, using a randomized trial design. Diagnosis of autism was confirmed using gold standard measures. Results show that the children in the treatment group (n = 17) who received 30 sessions of the occupational therapy intervention scored significantly higher (p = 0.003, d = 1.2) on Goal Attainment Scales (primary outcome), and also scored significantly better on measures of caregiver assistance in self-care (p = 0.008 d = 0.9) and socialization (p = 0.04, d = 0.7) than the Usual Care control group (n = 15). The study shows high rigor in its measurement of treatment fidelity and use of a manualized protocol, and provides support for the use of this intervention for children with autism. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for practice and future research.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism:
A Randomized Trial
Roseann C. Schaaf Teal Benevides Zoe Mailloux Patricia Faller
Joanne Hunt Elke van Hooydonk Regina Freeman Benjamin Leiby
Jocelyn Sendecki Donna Kelly
ÓThe Author(s) 2013. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com
Abstract This study evaluated a manualized intervention
for sensory difficulties for children with autism, ages
4–8 years, using a randomized trial design. Diagnosis of
autism was confirmed using gold standard measures.
Results show that the children in the treatment group
(n =17) who received 30 sessions of the occupational
therapy intervention scored significantly higher
(p=0.003, d =1.2) on Goal Attainment Scales (primary
outcome), and also scored significantly better on measures
of caregiver assistance in self-care (p=0.008 d =0.9)
and socialization (p=0.04, d =0.7) than the Usual Care
control group (n =15). The study shows high rigor in its
measurement of treatment fidelity and use of a manualized
protocol, and provides support for the use of this inter-
vention for children with autism. Findings are discussed in
terms of their implications for practice and future research.
Keywords Autism spectrum disorders
Intervention Sensory functions
Introduction
Difficulty processing, integrating and responding to sen-
sory stimuli has been described as a feature of autism
spectrum disorders (ASD) since the disorder was first
identified. Current estimates show that between 45 and
96 % of children with ASD demonstrate these sensory
difficulties (Ben-Sasson et al. 2009; Lane et al. 2010) and
sensory features (i.e.: hyper- or hypo reactivity to sensory
input or unusual interest in the sensory aspects of the
environment) are now included as one of four possible
manifestations of ‘Restricted, Repetitive Patterns of
Behavior, Interests, or Activities’ (American Psychiatric
Association 2013). Families report that behaviors associ-
ated with difficulty processing and integrating sensory
information create social isolation for them and their child,
restrict participation in daily living activities (Schaaf et al.
2011) and impact social engagement (Hilton et al. 2007,
2010; Baker et al. 2008; Ashburner et al. 2008; Reynolds
et al. 2011; Watson et al. 2011; Hochhauser and Engel-
Yeger 2010). Consequently, interventions to address
problems associated with difficulty processing sensory
information, such as occupational therapy using sensory
R. C. Schaaf (&)
Department of Occupational Therapy, Faculty of the Farber
Institute of Neuroscience, Thomas Jefferson University,
901 Walnut Street, Suite 605, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
e-mail: Roseann.schaaf@jefferson.edu
T. Benevides
Department of Occupational Therapy, Jefferson School of
Health Professions, 901 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107,
USA
Z. Mailloux
Pediatric Therapy Network, Torrance, CA, USA
P. Faller E. van Hooydonk R. Freeman
Children’s Specialized Hospital, 94 Stevens Rd, Toms River,
NJ 08755, USA
J. Hunt
Children’s Specialized Hospital, 150 New Providence Road,
Mountainside, NJ 07092, USA
B. Leiby J. Sendecki
Division of Biostatistics, Thomas Jefferson University, 1015
Chestnut St., Suite M100, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA
D. Kelly
Children’s Specialized Hospital, 200 Somerset Street, New
Brunswick, NJ, USA
123
J Autism Dev Disord
DOI 10.1007/s10803-013-1983-8
integration (OT/SI), (Ayres 1972,1979,1989) are among
the most often requested services by parents of children
with ASD (Mandell et al. 2005; Green et al. 2006; Goin-
Kochel et al. 2009). There is emerging evidence regarding
positive outcomes of OT/SI for children with ASD (Pfeiffer
et al. 2011; Fazlioglu and Baran 2008; and see Schaaf 2011
for a review), however, methodological limitations pre-
clude definitive conclusions. Hence, there is the need for a
rigorous study of OT/SI that includes a manualized pro-
tocol and measurement of treatment adherence (Case-
Smith and Arbesman 2008; Watling et al. 2011). Fortu-
nately, a validated measure of treatment fidelity that
describes the key principles of the sensory integrative
approach and provides guidelines for best practice is now
available (Parham et al. 2011,2007; May-Benson et al., in
press). Importantly, this measure provides a means to
evaluate the fidelity of OT/SI in a clinical trial while
assuring internal and external validity; a standard that is
followed in the current study.
A second advancement that enhances the testing of
this intervention is data showing that Goal Attainment
Scaling (GAS) is a useful outcome measure for studies of
interventions for ASD (Ruble et al. 2012). GAS is used
to measure functional and meaningful aspects of an
individual’s progress (Mailloux et al. 2007; Kiresuk et al.
1994). In autism, inherent heterogeneity often confounds
findings, and thus, it is important to utilize outcome
measures that are sensitive to individual outcomes. GAS
has been shown to be a substantive and sensitive
approach to evaluate progress on individualized goals in
randomized controlled trials of psychosocial interventions
for children with autism provided that specific quality
indicators are present. These include that goals are
independently rated, evaluated for equivalence between
groups (comparability), scaled with equidistance, have
measurable criteria, and clear, identifiable benchmarks
(Ruble et al. 2012), recommendations that we followed in
this study. A further strength of using GAS is that it
provides a means to identify and measure outcomes that
are parent-chosen and thus, meaningful to family. Given
the increased emphasis on measurement of outcomes that
are meaningful to the client or family (PCORI, http://
www.pcori.org), the use of GAS provides a model for
best practice.
Given the need for a rigorous randomized trial of OT/
SI for individuals with ASD, the primary purpose of this
study is to evaluate the efficacy of OT/SI following a
manualized protocol on individual goal attainment (pri-
mary outcome) in comparison to usual care (UC). The
secondary purpose was to evaluate the impact of this
approach on the child’s sensory behaviors, adaptive
behaviors and functional skills.
Methods
Participants
Thirty-two children participated in this study. A conve-
nience sample of eligible families was recruited from the
children’s hospital where the study took place and the
surrounding community. Families were eligible to partici-
pate if their child: (1) was between the ages of 4.0 and 7.11
at the time of enrollment, (2) had a diagnosis of an autism
spectrum disorder from a licensed psychologist based on
the results of the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised
(ADI-R) (Lord et al. 1994) and the Autism Diagnostic
Observation Schedule (ADOS) (Lord et al. 1999), (3) had a
non-verbal cognitive level of [65 (this IQ cut score is
based on findings from an earlier study where we assessed
the feasibility of conducting this intervention with children
with ASD—Schaaf Benevides et al. 2012); (4) demon-
strated difficulty processing and integrating sensory infor-
mation as measured by the Sensory Profile (SP—Dunn
1999; 3 or more subscales or total test score in the definite
difference range) or the Sensory Integration and Praxis
Test (SIPT- Ayres 1989; score of\-1.0 on 3 or more
subtests); and (5) parents were willing to attend 3 weekly
sessions for the duration of the 10-week study period and to
refrain from initiation of any new treatments including
medications during the study period.
Child characteristics are also shown in Table 1below
for the treatment (n=17) and UC control group (n=15).
In keeping with current gender prevalence estimates of
ASD (CDC, 2009), the majority of the participants in both
groups were boys (Treatment: 14 males, 3 females; UC: 12
males, 3 females) and Caucasian (treatment: 16 White, 1
not-reported; UC: 13 White, 2 Asian). Highest parent-
reported level of education in both groups was similar, with
11 (65 %) parents in the treatment group reporting a 4-year
college degree or higher, and nine (60 %) parents in the
UC group reporting a 4-year degree or higher. Age, autism
severity, cognitive level, and non-study related services
were similar between the two groups. Non-project services,
or ‘‘usual care’’ (UC) received during the study period was
similar between the groups and documented by parents
logging their child’s weekly services in hours per week.
Usual care included non-study related services such as
speech and language services, behavioral interventions,
educational program and other therapies as described in
Table 1.
Overview and Timeline
Data for this randomized clinical trial were collected at a
single project site in central New Jersey, between 2010 and
J Autism Dev Disord
123
2012. The study was approved by the first author’s research
ethics committee. Figure 1provides an overview of the
recruitment, enrollment, randomization and retention flow.
Following phone screening for eligibility with interested
parents, child participants were scheduled for confirmation
of autism diagnosis using the ADOS and the ADI-R and,
for children who did not have a current cognitive assess-
ment (within the past 12 months) confirmation of cognitive
level was also completed by the psychologist on the hos-
pital’s autism diagnostic team. If the child met inclusion
criteria, parental consent, child assent, and permission to
videotape treatment sessions was obtained following the
approved procedures. Next, independent evaluators, trained
in the administration of the assessments, conducted the pre-
intervention assessments. These blinded evaluators (n =2)
were highly experienced therapists who had been licensed
to practice occupational therapy for a mean of 28 years
(range 26–30 years), and who had experience with working
with children with ASD (mean =19 years, ran-
ge =16–22 years). These evaluators also were trained and
certified in the use of the SIPT for an average of 12.5 years
(range =9–16 years).
Following the completion of the initial assessments, the
independent evaluators analyzed the assessment data
(assessments are listed below) and met with the parents to
identify five goals that would be addressed during the study
period. These goals were scaled according to GAS Meth-
odology (Kiresuk et al. 1994). To maintain a level of
objectivity, parents did not view the goal attainment scales
upon their completion or during the study period.
Table 1 Child characteristics
and non-study services received
FET fisher exact test
a
One participant randomized to
treatment had a combined IQ of
65 (non-verbal IQ =55 and a
verbal IQ =77)
b
One participant in the control
group reported receiving 240 h
of behavioral support in school
OT/SI
n=17
Usual care
n=15
p
Age (mos)
Mean (SD) 71.35 (14.90) 72.33 (10.81) t(30) =0.21, p=0.84
Range 56–86 62–83
Full scale IQ
Mean (SD) 89.75 (18.74) 91.86 (11.93) t(28) =0.36, p=0.72
Range 59–123 64–109
Non-verbal IQ
a
Mean (SD) 91.87 (17.48) 95.00 (10.03) t(28) =0.60, p=0.55
Range 55–119 31–79
Verbal IQ
Mean (SD) 93.56 (18.33) 93.79 (14.26) t(28) =0.04, p=0.97
Range 63–135 69–114
ADOS autism severity score
Mean (SD) 7.76 (1.6) 8.40 (1.6) t(30) =1.09, p=0.28
Range 5–10 6–10
Other services
a
Total behavioral treatments (ABA home, ABA school, in hours)
Mean (SD) 8.94 (19.38) 23.3 (63.00) U =112.0, p=0.77
Median 0 0
Range (hours) 0–72 0–240
b
Frequency of children receiving 5 3
Occupational therapy, school (hours)
Mean (SD) 10.95 (14.81) 10.78 (9.29) U =110.0, p=0.50
Median 8 10
Range 0–45 0–32
Frequency of children receiving 8 12
Pharmacological treatments (f)
Not on medications 13 12 FET, p=0.99
On medications 4 3
Clonadine 1 0
Antidepressant 0 3
Methylphenidate 2 1
Adderal 1 0
J Autism Dev Disord
123
Independent evaluators remained blind to child allocation
during the study period and post-testing phases, and com-
pleted the post-intervention assessments using the same
assessment battery.
Randomization, Allocation Concealment
and Implementation
Once goals were identified and scaled, children were ran-
domly assigned using random number generations provided
by the study statistician to either the treatment or UC control
group using random permuted blocks within four strata
1
based on cognitive level (hereafter referred to as IQ) and
autism severity score (high IQ/high severity, low IQ/low
severity, high IQ/low severity, low IQ/high severity). A high
IQ was classified as a score of 85 or higher and low IQ was
classified as below 84. Autism severity was determined with
the ADOS using procedures to calculate severity scores
described by Gotham et al. (2009), in which a lower severity
score indicates less severity of autism features. A severity
score of 6–10 was scored as ‘‘high severity;’’ a score of 4–5
as ‘‘low severity.’’ In total, eight children were randomized
in the low IQ/high severity strata, one child randomized in
the low IQ/low severity strata, 22 randomized in the high IQ/
high severity strata, and one randomized in the high IQ/low
severity strata. The randomization sequence and opaque
envelopes with randomization allocation group (treatment
or UC) were generated by the Division of Biostatistics and
remained concealed until the child’s strata was determined
using the criteria outlined above. Children were randomized
by the second author or principal investigator in order of
completion of pre-test assessment and goal scaling. The
number of days between enrollment and randomization was
not significantly different between the treatment group
(M =30.5, SD =14) and UC Control group (M =35.4,
SD =8), t(30) =1.18,p=0.25.
Participant children randomly allocated to the treatment
group received the intervention three times per week in
1-hour sessions for 10 weeks. All parents were instructed
to continue with their child’s usual weekly treatments and
to document their child’s non-study related treatments on a
Assessed for eligibility
ADOS, ADI-R, IQ
(n=61) Excluded At Screening (n=28)
Not meeting inclusion criteria (n=10)
Declined to participate (n=3)
Other reasons (n=15; e.g. distance too far)
Analyzed (n=17)
Lost to follow-up or discontinued
(n=0)
Allocated and Received OT/SI
intervention (n=17)
Lost to follow-up (n=2)
Parent unable to attend post-test
with child and completed GAS
interview by phone (n=1)
Parent did not complete post-
testing (n=1)
Allocated and Received Usual Care
(n=15)
Analyzed (n=14 GAS, n=13
Secondary outcome measures)
Allocation
Analysis
Follow-Up/Post Test:
GAS, PEDI, PDDBI
Randomized (n=32)
Enrollment
Consent Interview & Pre-testing
SIPT, SP, PEDI, PDDBI
(n=33)
Goals Identified and Scaled (GAS)
Enrolled, excluded after consent prior to
randomization due to medication changes
(n=1)
Fig. 1 Participant recruitment, enrollment, randomization and retention
1
Although we randomized based on these strata, we did not complete
subgroup analyses based on strata due to small sample size.
J Autism Dev Disord
123
treatment log and to report weekly if any unusual events
occurred in their child’s lives (e.g. vacation, new baby).
Following the study period, both groups underwent post
assessment by the independent evaluators at a different
location to further ensure blinding. Information on sub-
jects’ completion of allocated intervention and attrition is
displayed in Fig. 1. Participant recruitment, enrollment,
randomization and retention.
Intervention
Children in the treatment group received a manualized OT/SI
intervention (Schaaf et al. 2011; Schaaf and Mailloux, in
preparation) that followed the principles of sensory inte-
gration as outlined by Ayres (1972,1979,2005) and
described in detail by Schaaf et al. (2009); Parham and
Mailloux (2010); Parham et al. (2011,2007); Mailloux and
Smith Roley (2010); Schaaf et al. (2012); and Schaaf and
Nightlinger (2007). The reader is referred to these sources for
an in-depth description. The manualization of the interven-
tion and examination of the treatment manual’s adherence to
fidelity was conducted in a feasibility study prior to this trial,
and results are described elsewhere (Schaaf et al. 2012).
Importantly, following the Data Driven Decision Making
Process (Schaaf et al. 2011; Schaaf and Blanche 2012) out-
lined in the intervention manual, assessment data were used
to develop hypotheses about the sensory motor factors
affecting the child’s functional behaviors and individually-
tailored sensory motor activities were developed to address
these factors. For example, if assessment data showed that
the goal of ‘‘participate in a play activity with a peer for
10 min’’ may be related to poor tactile processing and praxis
(hypothesis), individually- tailored sensory motor activities
were designed to address tactile discrimination and improve
praxis. Individually-tailored treatment activities might
include activities such as using a carpeted scooter board
while in the prone position to pull oneself up a ramp, then
working to turn the scooter board around to ride down the
ramp and land in a cushioned area of mats and pillows that
are covered with various textures. In this activity, the child is
experiencing total body tactile and proprioceptive sensations
(from scooter board texture, actively moving muscles
against resistance, and landing in textured mats and pillows)
to increase body awareness and using this enhanced sensory
input to plan body movements during the scooter board
activity. Of note, the intervention is contextualized in play
with active involvement of the child and conducted in a large
gym equipped with mats, a variety of suspended swings,
large balls, a climbing wall, carpeted barrels, large inner
tubes and foam blocks with opportunities for active, guided,
sensory motor play. The therapist facilitates the child’s
ability to participate in the sensory-motor experiences in
adaptive ways (e.g.: use a trapeze swing to experience
proprioceptive and vestibular sensations to increase body
awareness and then organize the body to hold onto the swing
and jump into a large ball pit). It should be noted that this
treatment is not designed to be a comprehensive treatment
for autism, but rather part of a comprehensive program that
includes educational, behavioral and medical services.
The intervention was delivered by three registered,
licensed occupational therapists with extensive experience
working with children with ASD (mean years of experi-
ence =15, range 12–20 years), with certification in sen-
sory integration,
2
and who were trained on the manualized
intervention. In addition, the interventionists received
3-day training by the third author and weekly consultations
with the first author to discuss challenges and questions.
Fidelity
Fidelity checks were utilized in this study to accomplish two
purposes: (1) to monitor and improve provider use of the
intervention manual procedures while minimizing drift in
provision of services, and (2) ensure the external validity of
the study procedures by documenting provider adherence to
principles of intervention (Bellg et al. 2004). Treatment
fidelity was confirmed using the Fidelity Measure discussed
above (Parham et al. 2007). This measure has strong inter-
rater reliability (0.99 for total score), with individual item
inter-rater reliability ranging from 0.94 to 0.99. Validity for
the measure is also strong as raters were accurately able to
distinguish the manualized intervention sessions from other
intervention approaches with 92 % accuracy. A score above
80/100 is considered acceptable fidelity and distinguishes
this intervention from others (Parham, et al. 2007). In this
study, all treatment sessions were videotaped and a random
selection of 10 % (n =51) were evaluated and rated. The
mean fidelity score was 90.1 (SD =9, Range =53–100).
Regarding the few sessions that did not reach a score of 80,
additional training and consultation was provided to the
therapists to support their adherence to the intervention.
Measures
Phenotypic Measures
Autism Diagnosis
Autism diagnosis was confirmed by non-study psycholo-
gists in the autism clinic at treatment site using the ADI-R
2
Certification in sensory integration requires participation in 120 h
of post-graduate course work offered and 40 hours of practice under
the guidance of an experienced clinician trained in sensory integration
(Parham et al. 2007).
J Autism Dev Disord
123
(Lord et al. 1994) and the ADOS-G (Lord et al. 1999). The
ADI-R is a semi-structured parent interview used to diag-
nose children with autism spectrum disorders and, in con-
junction with the ADOS, is considered to be a gold-
standard assessment for the diagnosis of ASD. The ADI-R
has established validity and reliability with trained
administrators (Lecavalier et al. 2006;Lordetal.1994).
The ADOS is a well-established diagnostic instrument that
codes the child’s behaviors during play and interactions
with the examiner. This assessment also has demonstrated
validity and reliability when administered by trained
professionals.
Cognition
Children who met criteria for an ASD diagnosis and who
were interested in the study underwent cognitive testing.
Measurement of cognitive level was completed using the
Stanford-Binet-V (Roid 2003), the Differential Abilities
Scale-II (Elliott 2007), or the Wechsler Preschool and Pri-
mary Scale of Intelligence-III (WPPSI) (Wechsler 2003).
3
Sensory Assessments
Eligible participants were evaluated by independent occu-
pational therapy evaluators to identify and describe diffi-
culties processing and integrating sensory information
using the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT)
(Ayres 1989) and the Sensory Profile (Dunn 1999).
The Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) are
group of 17 tests that measure a child’s sensory motor
abilities in the areas of tactile perception, motor planning,
visual-perception, vestibular and proprioceptive processing
and awareness (Ayres 1989). The SIPT is the gold standard
for assessing sensory integration and praxis, and is stan-
dardized on nearly 2,000 children 4–8 years 11 months.
This assessment produces standard scores for normative
age groups on each of the 17 tests, was administered to all
participants and findings were used to generate hypotheses
about the sensory motor factors affecting the identified
goals.
The Sensory Profile is a 125-item parent report of a
child’s sensory behaviors using a Likert-scale format to
quantify the frequency of occurrence of behaviors. The
Sensory Profile is appropriate for children ages 3–10 years,
and was standardized on over 1,200 children with and
without disabilities. Content and construct validity has
been established. Responses are summarized in six sensory
processing domains of Auditory Processing, Visual Pro-
cessing, Vestibular Processing, Touch Processing,
Multisensory Processing, Oral Sensory Processing, five
modulation areas, and three domains describing a child’s
emotional and behavioral responses to sensation. The
Sensory Profile was administered to all participants to
characterize their sensory reactivity (i.e.: over/under
responsiveness, seeking or avoidance) in the areas listed
above and findings were used to generate hypotheses about
sensory factors affecting identified goals.
Primary Outcome Measure: Goal Attainment Scaling
Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) provides a standardized
means to capture the diversity of meaningful, functional
outcomes (Kiresuk and Sherman 1968). It provides a sys-
tematic process for identification of goals that are specifi-
cally relevant to individuals and their families and has been
shown to be a promising outcome measure in ASD (Ruble
et al. 2012). GAS has been used extensively for outcome
measurement (Ruble et al. 2010; Pfeiffer et al. 2011; Miller
et al. 2007; Mailloux et al. 2007) and is shown to be a valid
and reliable method for measurement of progress on indi-
vidualized goals for children with ASD (Ruble et al. 2012;
Palisano et al. 1992). For example, Ruble et al. (2012)
report good reliability when objectives are clearly mea-
surable finding average intra class correlation between 2
study samples of 0.98 (CI 0.74–0.99) for measurability,
0.96 (CI 0.74–0.99) for equi-distance, and 0.77 (CI
0.65–0.99) for difficulty. In a study of 65 infants ages,
3–30 months, Palisano et al. (1992) found that GAS is
valid as a responsive measure of motor change for infants
with motor delays as ‘‘neither type or category of goals
influenced the therapists’ ability to select outcomes that the
infants were capable of achieving’’ within the 6 month
intervention period (p 335). Ruble et al. (2012) concludes
that GAS is a ‘‘promising ideographic approach for mea-
suring intervention effectiveness’’ (p 1983). These authors
recommend using a GAS template to assure goals are
standardized and systematic to create reliable and valid
goals, and to conduct technical checks that assess the
qualities of the goal scaling to assure methodological
soundness, strategies that we utilized in the current study.
A technical check was completed by the second author on
each GAS to assure that it met all quality markers using a
technical checklist that included items based on GAS lit-
erature such as ‘‘The desired behavior/skills is observable
and measurable with criteria of frequency and duration; the
projected level of performance is based on the child’s
current level and scaled with intervals that represent
equidistance.’’ A mathematical method is used to calculate
a T-score that represents the extent to which the goals are
met (Ottenbacher and Cusick 1990) and thus, although the
goals are different for each participant, the score is
standardized.
3
One child was tested with the Woodcock-Johnson Test of
Achievement.
J Autism Dev Disord
123
Goals for each child were identified by the independent
evaluators using a standard series of questions with the
parent and then scaled with equally spaced probability
intervals according to the procedures recommended by
Kiresuk et al. (1994); Ruble et al. (2012); and Mailloux
et al. (2007). To scale each goal, the independent evaluator
describes the child’s current level of functioning for the
specific goal and then scales it for expected level of
attainment over the 10 week period (improvement) and
down (regression). The probability distance between the
levels of the scale is equal and equally distributed around
the predicted level of performance. A score of ‘‘0’’ is used
for expected level of attainment during the 10-week period,
with scores of -1 and -2 denoting less and much less than
expected level of attainment respectively; while ?1 and ?2
denote better and much better level of attainment than
expected. Following the intervention period, the indepen-
dent evaluators who were blind to group assignment con-
ducted a standardized interview with the parents and asked
parents to rate their child’s goals. A summary of the type of
goals identified by parents for this study are shown in
Table 2; and a sample GAS is displayed in Fig. 2.
Secondary Outcome Measure
Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory: The Pediatric
Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI; Haley et al.
1992) was used to evaluate a child’s self-care, mobility,
and social function skills. Additionally, this assessment
evaluates the amount of caregiver assistance and modifi-
cation that is needed for the child to participate fully. The
PEDI has been used in pediatric intervention studies, and
has good psychometric properties for use as an outcome
measure. Construct validity has been supported (Haley
et al. 1992), and it has been used in intervention studies for
children with ASD (Wong et al. 2010). Additionally, the
assessment has high internal consistency, and excellent
inter-rater reliability.
Pervasive Developmental Disorders Behavior Inventory
(PDDBI): The PDDBI (Cohen et al. 2003) is a standardized
assessment normed on children with autism or PDD
between the ages of 18 months and 12 years, 5 months.
This assessment evaluates the severity of a child’s autism
behaviors on a number of parent-reported domains. For the
purposes of this study, we chose a priori to evaluate a
child’s outcomes on the domains most aligned with the
targeted focus of treatment, specifically Sensory/Perceptual
Approach (S/P Approach), Ritualisms/Resistance to
Change (R/R), and Arousal Regulation Problems (Arouse)
domains. The PDDBI has strong parent-reported test–retest
validity over a 6-month interval (S/P Approach r=0.63,
R/R r=0.82, Arouse r=0.82), and has demonstrated
construct, criterion and concurrent validity.
Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-II (Parent Report):
The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales II (VABS-II)
(Sparrow et al. 2005) was used to assess adaptive behaviors
needed for participation in home, school and community
activities at pre and post assessment. The VABS-II is a
standardized, norm-referenced measure that evaluates
adaptive behavior in four domains: Communication Skills
(Receptive, Expressive, Written), Daily Living Skills
(Personal, Domestic, Community), Socialization Skills
(Interpersonal Relationships, Play and Leisure, Coping),
and Motor Skills (Gross, Fine). It has good subdomain
reliability with approximately 75 % of subdomain scores
having a value of 0.75 or greater. Inter-rater reliability is
considered good for a sample aged 7–18 years, and ranges
from 0.81 to 0.71 for domain and subdomain scores, and is
even higher for younger children (0.83). Internal consis-
tency is considered good at 0.80 and test-re-test reliability
is high, exceeding 0.85 (Sparrow et al. 2005).
Sample Size
The study was designed to gather preliminary efficacy
information about the intervention with respect to the pri-
mary outcome of GAS. For this primary outcome measure
we calculated power to detect different effect sizes for a
given sample size. With 32 subjects we have 78 % power
to detect an effect size of 1, and greater than 80 % power to
detect effect sizes greater than 1 using a two-sample ttest
with a two-sided type-I error rate of 5 %.
Results
Our main goal was to evaluate the effects of the inter-
vention on parent-reported, individual goal attainment
using GAS (primary outcome). Secondarily, we evaluated
the effects of the intervention on sensory behaviors, func-
tional and adaptive behaviors using the PDDBI, PEDI, and
the VABS II. Normality of primary and secondary outcome
measures was evaluated prior to evaluating group differ-
ences. Scores on these secondary outcomes were not nor-
mally distributed and thus, non-parametric statistical tests
were used to account for violation of the assumption of
normality. In addition, although differences in baseline
scores were not significantly different between the groups,
on some outcomes differences within groups at baseline
would be considered clinically meaningful. To account for
variability in baseline scores, we used change scores in the
analyses. Given the range of pre-treatment scores, within-
person change was viewed as the most clinically relevant
post-treatment score. An alpha of 0.05 was used for all
comparisons. Data reported represents numbers of subjects
with complete data sets (see reasons for attrition in Fig. 1).
J Autism Dev Disord
123
Evaluation of Treatment Effects on Goal Attainment
To test the main effect of the treatment, we conducted a
two-tailed independent samples t-test to evaluate the dif-
ference in goal attainment between the groups. Results
revealed a significant difference between the treatment
(M =56.53, SD =12.38, n =17) and UC (M =42.71,
SD =11.21, n =14) groups on the GAS with the treat-
ment group achieving significantly higher scores
(t(23) =-3.23, p=0.003, ES =1.2).
Evaluation of Treatment Effects on Functional
Behaviors
To test the effect of the treatment on functional behaviors
we compared the change from baseline to end of treatment
for each of the PEDI subscales using the Wilcoxon Rank
Sum test. We used median change scores to control for
non-normal distributions. Results reveal significantly
greater change (improvement) for the treatment group in
comparison to the UC control group on Self-Care Care-
giver Assistance subtest (p=0.008) and Social Function
Caregiver Assistance (p=0.039). Of note, the treatment
group also showed greater improvement on the Social
Functions subtest (p=0.097) and the Self-Care Functional
Skills subtest (p=0.198). The findings from the PEDI are
displayed in Table 3. In addition to reporting median
change scores, we also report mean and standard deviations
for each subscale as these were used to calculate effect
sizes.
Evaluation of Treatment Effects on Autism Behaviors
To test the effects of the treatment on sensory/perceptual
approach behaviors, arousal regulation and ritualism/
resistance to change, we compared the change from base-
line to the end of treatment on these PDDBI subscales
using the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test. Given that lower scores
indicate a decrease in autism behaviors, a greater negative
change scores indicates a better response. As shown in
Table 3, there were no significant differences in autism
behaviors at post-treatment between the groups, although
changes for the treatment group approached significance in
the Sensory Perceptual Behaviors Subscale (p=0.064)
Table 2 Frequency (f) of goal type by study group
Type of goal OT/SI (f) Usual care (f)
Self-care 27 25
Play 16 15
Sitting 12 9
Daily routine participation 7 1
Fine motor 5 1
Meal participation 1 0
Community participation 4 2
Communication 2 1
Self-stimulatory behaviors 3 3
Emotional regulation 3 6
Gross motor/praxis 2 3
Safety 1 2
Sleep 1 3
Impulsive behaviors 1 0
Inappropriate touching 0 4
Sample goals (italicized portion represents goal)
The child is sensitive to auditory stimuli and wakes during the night
easily. Goal: Improve auditory process as a basis for sleeping through
the night without getting out of bed for 7–8 h per night
This child hates touching food and uses a napkin to cover his food
before touching it. Goal: Decrease tactile sensitivity as a basis for
eating with his fork and spoon for 50 % of the meal as appropriate
This child has oral-sensory sensitivity and a limited food repertoire.
Goal Decrease oral sensitivity and will try 5 new foods
This child has dyspraxia and poor tactile processing. Goal: Improve
praxis and tactile processing as a basis for putting on socks
independently
This child has tactile sensitivity and avoids contact with others. Goal:
Decrease tactile sensitivity so child can tolerate play with sibling for
5 min without supervision
Goal: Decrease sensory sensitivity to the oral area as a basis for tooth brushing.
Current Performance: It takes over 20 to 30 minutes each day for tooth brushing with assistance from mother.
Tooth brushing is unpleasant for JH and often there is whining and crying.
-2 (much less than expected level of attainment) Will brush teeth within a 17-20 minute time frame
-1 (less than expected level of attainment) Will brush teeth within a 13-16 minute time frame
0 (expected level of attainment) Will brush teeth within a 9 -12 minute time frame
+1 (better than expected level of attainment) Will brush teeth within a 5-8 minute time frame
+2 (much better than ex
p
ected level of attainment) Will brush teeth within a 1-4 minute time frame
Fig. 2 Sample goal attainment scale
J Autism Dev Disord
123
(indicating a decrease in autism behaviors) and were also
lower in the Arousal Regulation subscale (0.38).
Evaluation of Treatment Effects on Adaptive Behaviors
To test the effects of the treatment on adaptive behaviors
we compared the change in standard scores from baseline
to the end of treatment each of the Vineland-II subscales
and the Adaptive Behavior Composite Score using the
Wilcoxon Rank Sum test. As shown in Table 3there were
no significant differences in adaptive behaviors, although
the treatment group improved more than the UC Controls
in all subscales.
Discussion
Interventions to address difficulty processing and inte-
grating sensory information are frequently used as part of a
comprehensive approach for individuals with ASD. How-
ever, the evidence is compromised by methodological
limitations in existing studies. Thus, there is a need for
more evidence with a well-characterized sample using a
manualized protocol following the principles of sensory
integration and measurement of fidelity. The current study
is one of the first randomized trials to meet this level of
rigor (Table 4).
Our main finding is that subjects with ASD who were
randomized to treatment scored significantly higher on our
primary outcome measure, GAS, than those who received
UC. Secondarily, we found that the children in the treat-
ment group scored as needing significantly less caregiver
assistance during self-care and social activities and showed
a trend toward higher skills in these areas. Further, sensory
behaviors in the treatment group decreased more than in
the UC group and this difference approached significance
(Table 5).
The primary outcome for this study was the score
obtained on GAS and we found that the children receiving
the treatment scored significantly higher (p=0.003) than
the controls on goal attainment with an effect size of 1.2.
Our finding is consistent with Pfeiffer et al. (2011) who
found that children with ASD who participated in 6-week
program of occupational therapy using sensory integration
made significantly greater gains in their individualized goal
attainment scale scores in comparison to those who
Table 3 Group differences on change in standard scores on pediatric evaluation of disabilities inventory
Control Experimental Significance Effect Size
a
Median Mean SD Median Mean SD
Functional skills
b
Self-care 1.7 1.12 5.6 3.7 10.2 22.6 0.198 0.5
Mobility 0 6.38 15.1 0 6.57 23.8 0.69 0.0
Social 1.1 4.4 13.8 4 9.3 17.4 0.097 0.3
Caregiver assistance
Self-care 1.3 -0.43 8.6 12.2 16.6 23 0.008** 0.9
Mobility 0 0.22 11.8 0 4.8 24.1 0.68 0.2
Social 0 -1.8 19 13.5 14.4 23.4 0.039* 0.7
a
Mean and standard deviations are based on raw scores. Effect size is presented using the difference in means divided by the pooled standard
deviation
b
Functional Skills represent actual skills completed by child whereas caregiver assistance represents the amount of assistance that the caregiver
provides
** p\0.001; * p\0.05
Table 4 Group differences on change scores of pervasive developmental disorders behavioral inventory
Control Experimental Significance Effect size
a
Median Mean SD Median Mean SD
S/P Approach -0.05 -0.67 5.9 -5-5.9 10.8 0.06 -0.6
R/R -2-1.77 6.3 -2-6.5 13.7 0.57 -0.4
Arouse -3-3.3 6.0 -6-7.1 11.6 0.38 -0.4
S/P Approach sensory/perceptual approach, R/R ritualisms/resistance to change, Arouse arousal regulation problems
a
Effect size is presented using the difference in means divided by the pooled standard deviation
J Autism Dev Disord
123
received a fine motor intervention. Goal attainment scaling
is a method to individualize and quantify goals for clinical
populations. It has been used extensively in the clinical
literature, and is recommended as an outcome measure in
randomized control trials of psychosocial interventions in
ASD (Ruble et al. 2012) such as the current study. Of note,
the procedures we utilized in constructing scaled goals
were consistent with the recently published recommenda-
tions of for its use (Ruble et al. 2012) including that:
benchmarks were carefully constructed, goals were scaled
at equal intervals, and rating of goals post intervention was
based on parent interview by an independent evaluator
blind to study condition. Although adherence to these
conditions increases the reliability and validity of GAS
(Ruble, et al. 2012) our findings must be interpreted with
caution given that the parents were not blind to the
intervention.
Two valuable aspects of GAS are that it provided a
means to individualize goals based on each child’s indi-
vidual needs and to identify areas that are important to the
parents. Individualization is an important aspect of treat-
ment given the heterogeneity and developmental nature of
ASD as it is likely that each child has a unique set of pre-
treatment characteristics that impact the choice of goals
and outcomes (Stahmer et al. 2011). Further, utilization of
goals that are important and meaningful to the parents
assures that the primary stakeholders (families of children
with ASD) needs are being addressed. This is an important
aspect of any intervention and is in keeping with contem-
porary trends in intervention research (PCORI 2013;
Melnyk and Morrison-Beedy 2012). For the current study,
individual goals were based on parent-identified areas of
need and assessment data that were established prior to
treatment allocation. Many of the goals for the treatment
and UC controls were similar in type as shown in Table 2.
The most frequent goals were related to self-care including
goals such as greater independence in dressing, feeding,
toileting or grooming activities (treatment =27,
UC =25). The second and third most frequent goals were
about play (treatment =16, UC =15); and sitting for
participation in activities such as synagogue or dinner (OT/
SI =12, UC =9). There were some minor differences in
goal type between the groups; the treatment group had
more goals related to fine motor skills (OT/SI =5,
UC =1) and participation in daily routines (treat-
ment =7, UC =1); whereas the usual care group had
more goals related to emotional regulation (treatment =3,
UC =6), sleep (treatment =1, UC =3) and inappropri-
ate touching (treatment =0, UC =4).
A second aspect of individualization that is important
for ASD research and practice is that intervention strategies
were tailored to each child’s assessed areas of need. In this
study, the Data Driven Decision Making Process (Schaaf,
in press; Schaaf et al. 2012; Schaaf and Benevides 2011;
Schaaf and Blanche 2012) was used to individually tailor
treatment activities to address the specific sensory-motor
factors that were hypothesized to be affecting each par-
ticipant’s goal attainment and functional skills. The treat-
ment utilizes individually tailored sensory motor activities
at the just right challenge with a playful approach to
facilitate the child’s adaptation to promote function. Thus,
the focus of treatment is on each individual’s sensory
motor factors hypothesized to be impacting function, but
importantly, the expected outcomes are functional behav-
iors. It is likely that this individualization was an important
aspect of the positive findings of this study, and should be
modeled in future studies.
In terms of functional behaviors, the children in the
treatment group significantly decreased their need for
caregiver assistance on self-care and social activities in
comparison to the UC controls on the PEDI. In addition,
they also showed a trend toward improvement in self-care
and social skills. Thus, not only did the caregivers rate the
children in the treatment group as needing less assistance
from them in these activities, they also rated their skill
level higher. These secondary outcome data should be
interpreted with caution given that we completed multiple
comparisons, however, these findings are consistent with
the philosophy of the treatment approach—that adequate
processing and integration of sensory information provides
Table 5 Group differences on change in in standard scores on vineland adaptive behavior scales—II
Control Experimental Significance Effect size
a
Median Mean SD Median Mean SD
Communication 1 -3.38 18.6 1 5.06 10.9 0.20 0.6
Daily living
Skills 0 -3.0 18.5 4 4.2 11.6 0.18 0.5
Socialization -2-6.7 21.8 3 3.8 11.8 0.29 0.6
Composite 0 0.0 8.1 2 15.1 44.7 0.30 0.4
a
Mean and standard deviations are based on raw scores. Effect size is presented using the difference in means divided by the pooled standard
deviation
J Autism Dev Disord
123
an important foundation for participation in functional,
meaningful activities (Ayres 2005). Of note, the PEDI has
been shown to have good reliability and validity as an
outcome measure of functional behaviors (Nichols and
Case-Smith 1996).
In terms of the sensory-motor factors that may underlie
these findings, in this cohort many participants in both
groups showed deficits in sensory modulation and praxis
(measured via the Sensory Profile and the SIPT), and thus,
the intervention was tailored to address these areas.
Improvements in sensory modulation and praxis skills
therefore, may underlie the gains seen in self-care and
social skills. In regard to sensory modulation (over or
under-reactivity to typical levels of sensation), the indi-
vidually-tailored treatment for these children included a
focus on activities that facilitated sensory modulation and
regulation of behavioral responses to these sensory expe-
riences. As the child’s ability to modulate sensation
improved, it is likely that their behavioral regulation also
improved and subsequently they were better able to par-
ticipate in self-care and social activities. Interestingly, the
subjects in the treatment group did show a decreasing trend
of negative sensory behaviors on the Sensory Perceptual
Behaviors Subscale of the PDDBI and this approached
significance (p=0.064), supporting this interpretation.
Similarly, it is possible that the intervention also had an
impact on praxis. Praxis involves the ability to conceive of,
plan, and organize goal-directed motor actions (Ayres
1989; Dziuk et al. 2007) and is related to adequate pro-
cessing and integration of body sensory information (tac-
tile, vestibular and proprioception). The intervention aimed
to facilitate body awareness and praxis through individu-
ally-tailored, active, sensory-motor activities rich in tactile,
proprioceptive and vestibular sensations. Many self-care
activities such as dressing require adequate body awareness
and thoughtful planning and execution of motor skills.
Thus, it is possible that improved body awareness and
praxis had a positive impact on ability to carry out these
self-care tasks. Similarly, social interactions require con-
stant processing of varied, often unpredictable sensations
and the need for spontaneous responses (i.e.: praxis) and
are likely affected by difficulty processing and integrating
sensory information related to the body (Hilton et al. 2007,
2010; Baker et al. 2008; Ashburner et al. 2008; Reynolds
et al. 2011; Watson et al. 2011; Hochhauser and Engel-
Yeger 2010). Thus, as the children’s praxis improved, it is
plausible that their ability to adaptively plan and carry out
social interaction activities also improved and they became
more independent. Further testing of these potential rela-
tionship is needed and in order to validate the idea that
improvements in sensory modulation and praxis were
related to improvements in functional skills, it will be
important in future studies to specifically measure any
changes in in these factors and their relationship to changes
in functional skills such as self-care and socialization. In
this study we were limited by the lack of instruments
validated to measure change in these factors for this pop-
ulation within our 10-week intervention period. The SIPT
is not recommended as a pre-post-test measure for periods
shorter than 8–12 months (Ayres 1989) and its utility for
shorter intervention periods has not been tested. Similarly,
the Sensory Profile has not been validated for use as a pre-
post assessment (Dunn 1999) although there is emerging
data that test–retest reliability of certain sub-scores may be
utilized in this way. Until these measures are validated for
use as outcome measures in shorter intervention periods, or
outcome measure to evaluate change in sensory functions
are validated, future studies should consider a longer
intervention period so that these assessments can be used to
measure change in sensory-motor skills and determine their
relationship to any changes in functional skills and adap-
tive behavior.
In terms of the proposed mechanism underlying the
positive findings in this study, one explanation is that the
intervention impacted neuroplasticity—the ability of the
nervous system to be shaped and influenced by experience. It
is well regarded in the neuro-developmental literature that
early sensory motor experiences promote neuroplasticity
and enhance the capacity of the brain to adapt to environ-
mental challenges (Shonkoff and Phillips 2000; Ayres 1972;
Dawson et al. 2012). Thus, it is possible that through the
process of neuroplasticity that the children became more
independent in their functional skills as their ability to pro-
cess and integrate sensory information improved. Further
testing of this assumption is needed using methods that
evaluate nervous system activity pre and post intervention.
There is some preliminary evidence that change in neural
activities results from enriched environments. For example,
Dawson et al. (2012) showed that more organized EEG
activity occurred in children with ASD who also made gains
in the Denver Early Start Program; and Miller et al. (2007)
showed that electrodermal activity, a measure of sympa-
thetic nervous system activity, showed a trend to decrease
(expected direction) following a sensory-enriched inter-
vention in subjects who were previously sensory hyper-
reactive. An important next step in this research will be to
measure changes in brain activity that may be concurrent
with improvements in adaptive behaviors and individual
goals as suggested by Schaaf et al. (2013).
In summary, our data provide preliminary support for
the efficacy of a manualized intervention designed to
address difficulties processing and integrating sensory
information for children with ASD. We show improve-
ments in our primary outcome—Goal Attainment as well
as our secondary outcome measures showing improve-
ments in self-care and social activities reflected by
J Autism Dev Disord
123
decreased caregiver assistance. These findings should be
interpreted cautiously until they are replicated in a larger
sample size. In addition, in future studies it would be useful
to include additional outcome measures that rely on direct
observation of goal attainment and sensory behaviors to
provide further validation of GAS findings. It will be
important to supplement parent reported data with direct
observational measures. It will also be important to include
a longer intervention period in future studies and follow-up
testing to determine if the observed changes are main-
tained. Finally, although we randomized subjects based on
autism severity and cognition, we were not able to include
these strata in our analysis due to our sample size. Future
studies would be strengthened by the inclusion of a larger
sample so that impact of potentially confounding variables
on treatment outcomes can be evaluated. Of note, almost
all of our participants (30 of 32 children, or 94 %) dem-
onstrated high severity of autism, and 22 or 68.75 % also
had high IQ. It would be useful if future studies utilizing
this intervention include children with low severity and/or
low cognition to determine if the findings from this study
are replicated with this sample. Similarly, our sample of
convenience resulted in a sample with little ethnic diversity
and future studies should make an effort to include par-
ticipants from more diverse backgrounds. Despite these
limitations, this study provides evidence that this inter-
vention may be a useful adjunct to a comprehensive
intervention program for individuals with ASD who have
functional and behavioral challenges related to difficulty
processing and integrating of sensory information.
Acknowledgment This Grant was funded by an Autism Speaks
Foundation Treatment Grant (#3797). The authors wish to thank the
Jefferson School of Health Professions and the Children’s Specialized
Hospital for their support of this project, and the families and children
who participated in this Project. The authors also with to thank the
Sensory Integration Research Collaborative for their contributions to
the manual used in this study: Teal Benevides, Erna Blanche,
Stephanie Bodison, Janice Burke, Ellen Cohn, Jane Koomar, Shelly
Lane, Teresa May Benson, Lucy Jane Miller, Diane Parham, Stacey
Reynolds, Roseann Schaaf, Sarah Schoen, Susanne Smith Roley.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, dis-
tribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author(s) and the source are credited.
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... Studies meeting ASI fidelity principles have been shown to lead to improvement in client-oriented goals, 33,34 but research is limited and, in some cases, interventions are poorly defined. 13 Case-Smith et al. 13 identified five studies specifically examining SIT, of which only two 33,34 were RCTs. SIT was described in these studies as ' . . . ...
... clinic-based interventions that use sensory-rich, child-directed activities to improve a child's adaptive responses to sensory experiences'. 13 Both RCTs 33,34 included in the review 13 demonstrated positive effects of SIT on the Goal Attainment Scale (GAS). There were, however, methodological issues with both trials, including small sample sizes [i.e. ...
... There were, however, methodological issues with both trials, including small sample sizes [i.e. no formal sample size calculation and use of convenience samples (n = 37 33 and n = 32 34 )], lack of long-term follow-up 33,34 and limited description of usual care. 34 There are also well-documented methodological problems (with validity and reliability) related to the use of GAS as an outcome measure in clinical trials, 35,36 particularly in paediatric contexts. ...
Article
Background Carers report unmet need for occupational therapy services addressing sensory difficulties in autism, yet insufficient evidence exists to recommend a therapeutic approach. Objectives Our aim was to determine the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of sensory integration therapy for children with autism and sensory difficulties across behavioural, functional and quality-of-life outcomes. Design We carried out a parallel-group randomised controlled trial, incorporating an internal pilot and a process evaluation. Randomisation utilised random permuted blocks. Setting and participants Children were recruited via services and self-referral in Wales and England. Inclusion criteria were having an autism diagnosis, being in mainstream primary education and having definite/probable sensory processing difficulties. Exclusion criteria were having current/previous sensory integration therapy and current applied behaviour analysis therapy. Intervention The intervention was manualised sensory integration therapy delivered over 26 weeks and the comparator was usual care. Outcomes The primary outcome was problem behaviours (determined using the Aberrant Behavior Checklist), including irritability/agitation, at 6 months. Secondary outcomes were adaptive behaviour, functioning and socialisation (using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales); carer stress (measured using the Autism Parenting Stress Index); quality of life (measured using the EuroQol-5 Dimensions and Carer Quality of Life); functional change (according to the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure); sensory processing (determined using the Sensory Processing Measure™ at screening and at 6 months to examine mediation effects); and cost-effectiveness (assessed using the Client Service Receipt Inventory). Every effort was made to ensure that outcome assessors were blind to allocation. Results A total of 138 participants were randomised ( n = 69 per group). Usual care was significantly different from the intervention, which was delivered with good fidelity and adherence and minimal contamination, and was associated with no adverse effects. Trial procedures and outcome measures were acceptable. Carers and therapists reported improvement in daily functioning. The primary analysis included 106 participants. There were no significant main effects of the intervention at 6 or 12 months. The adjusted mean difference between groups on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist – irritability at 6 months post randomisation was 0.40 (95% confidence interval –2.33 to 3.14; p = 0.77). Subgroup differences in irritability/agitation at 6 months were observed for sex of child (intervention × female = 6.42, 95% confidence interval 0.00 to 12.85; p = 0.050) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (intervention × attention deficit hyperactivity disorder = –6.77, 95% confidence interval –13.55 to –0.01; p = 0.050). There was an effect on carer stress at 6 months by region (intervention × South England = 7.01, 95% confidence interval 0.45 to 13.56; p = 0.04) and other neurodevelopmental/genetic conditions (intervention × neurodevelopmental/genetic condition = –9.53, 95% confidence interval –18.08 to –0.98; p = 0.030). Carer-rated goal performance and satisfaction increased across sessions ( p < 0.001), with a mean change of 2.75 (95% confidence interval 2.14 to 3.37) for performance and a mean change of 3.34 (95% confidence interval 2.63 to 4.40) for satisfaction. Health economic evaluation suggests that sensory integration therapy is not cost-effective compared with usual care alone. Limitations Limitations included variability of the intervention setting (i.e. NHS vs. private), delay for some receiving therapy, an error in administration of Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and no measurement of comparator arm goal performance. Conclusions The intervention did not demonstrate clinical benefit above standard care. Subgroup effects are hypothesis-generating only. The intervention is likely to be effective for individualised performance goals, although it is unclear whether effects were in addition to standard care or were maintained. Future work Further investigation of subgroup effects is needed. Trial registration This trial is registered as ISRCTN14716440. Funding This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment ; Vol. 26, No. 29. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.
... The Sensory Processing Measure (SPM) (Parham et al., 2007), Sensory Processing Measure-Preschool (SPM-P (Parham & Ecker, 2010), and Sensory Profile-2nd edition (SP-2) (Dunn, 2010) are brief parent-report screens appropriate for children 2-12 years (SPM and SPM-P) and birth through 14 years (SP-2). An occupational therapist trained in sensory evaluation and treatment can provide a thorough assessment and develop an individualized treatment plan for the child (Schaaf et al., 2014). Therapies designed to address sensory dysfunction can improve individualized treatment goal attainment for young children with ASD (Pfeiffer et al., 2011;Schaaf et al., 2014). ...
... An occupational therapist trained in sensory evaluation and treatment can provide a thorough assessment and develop an individualized treatment plan for the child (Schaaf et al., 2014). Therapies designed to address sensory dysfunction can improve individualized treatment goal attainment for young children with ASD (Pfeiffer et al., 2011;Schaaf et al., 2014). ...
Article
The heterogeneous nature of children with symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) makes it difficult to identify risk factors and effective treatment options. We sought to identify behavioral and developmental features that best define the heterogeneity and homogeneity in 2–5-year-old children classified with ASD and subthreshold ASD characteristics. Children were enrolled in a multisite case–control study of ASD. Detailed behavioral and developmental data were gathered by maternal telephone interview, parent-administered questionnaires, child cognitive evaluation, and ASD diagnostic measures. Participants with a positive ASD screen score or prior ASD diagnosis were referred for comprehensive evaluation. Children in the ASD group met study criteria based on this evaluation; children who did not meet study criteria were categorized as having subthreshold ASD characteristics. There were 1480 children classified as ASD (81.6% boys) and 594 children classified as having subthreshold ASD characteristics (70.2% boys) in the sample. Factors associated with dysregulation (e.g., aggression, anxiety/depression, sleep problems) followed by developmental abilities (e.g., expressive and receptive language skills) most contributed to heterogeneity in both groups of children. Atypical sensory response contributed to homogeneity in children classified as ASD but not those with subthreshold characteristics. These findings suggest that dysregulation and developmental abilities are clinical features that can impact functioning in children with ASD and other DD, and that documenting these features in pediatric records may help meet the needs of the individual child. Sensory dysfunction could be considered a core feature of ASD and thus used to inform more targeted screening, evaluation, treatment, and research efforts. Lay summary The diverse nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) makes it difficult to find risk factors and treatment options. We identified the most dissimilar and most similar symptom(s) in children classified as ASD and as having subthreshold ASD characteristics. Factors associated with dysregulation and developmental abilities contributed to diversity in both groups of children. Sensory dysfunction was the most common symptom in children with ASD but not those with subthreshold characteristics. Findings can inform clinical practice and research.
... L'ASI ® se compose d'une théorie fondée sur les neurosciences appliquée à l'ergothérapie, d'outils d'évaluation et d'une méthode d'intervention (figure 1). Son application a montré des effets bénéfiques auprès d'enfants ayant un trouble neurodéveloppemental (trouble du développement de la coordination, trouble de l'attention avec hyperactivité, trouble du spectre de l'autisme) (Miller, Coll & Schoen, 2007 ;Pfeiffer, Koenig, Kinnealey, Sheppard & Henderson, 2011 ;Schaaf et al., 2014). Selon la théorie de l'ASI ® , le comportement adapté au contexte repose sur l'intégration par le système nerveux central des apports sensoriels issus de l'interaction avec l'environnement. ...
... Ces expériences, lorsqu'elles sont adaptées au niveau sensoriel, moteur et cognitif d'un enfant, augmentent les connexions neuronales, qui améliorent l'interprétation des évènements sensoriels, les comportements adaptés au contexte et la participation (Lane et al., 2019). Son application auprès d'enfants présentant des comportements hyper-sensibles et un trouble du spectre de l'autisme, a montré des effets positifs sur leurs comportements sociaux et une diminution de leurs comportements stéréotypés (Miller, Coll & Schoen, 2007 ;Pfeiffer, Koenig, Kinnealey, Sheppard & Henderson, 2011 ;Schaaf et al., 2014). ...
Article
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Si très souvent, les limitations d’activités chez l’enfant sont relatées au travers de situations de handicap d’origine motrice, cognitive ou encore de faibles interactions sociales, la sphère sensorielle peut, elle aussi, être source de désorganisation des activités du quotidien. C’est avec le filtre du modèle de l’Intégration Sensorielle que cet article tente d’expliciter les difficultés que rencontrent un enfant et sa famille dans la vie de tous les jours. L’intervention de l’ergothérapeute formée à la méthode d’Inté-gration Sensorielle y est illustrée par un cas clinique.
... Collaboration between burns and mental health services Therapist training 21 Specific therapist training in trauma-informed care 22 Specific training for therapists in sensory modulation treatments appropriate level of arousal within the environment, to establish emotional stability, and to de-escalate in times of emotional distress [22,23]. Sensory modulation approaches have been shown to be effective in improving performance in adults with mental health diagnoses [45], adult trauma survivors [46], the management of aggression in people with Huntington' Diseases [47] and neurological impairments [48], and in adults and children with disabilities [38,49,50]. The present study offers valuable insights into the potential use of sensory modulation therapy for adults after burn who are sensory over-responsive and have difficulty adhering to compression garment wear, which have hitherto not been considered. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background Sensory over-responsiveness, identified through self-report and quantitative sensory testing, has been associated with compression garment non-adherence in a burn-injured cohort. This study sought expert consensus on the usefulness of, and recommendations for, sensory modulation strategies to improve compression garment adherence in sensory over-responsive adults post-burn. Method Experts in the field of sensory modulation were invited to participate in a mixed-methods, three-round electronic Delphi study. Results Experts (N=18) agreed that sensory modulation therapy may be a useful clinical tool to improve compression garment adherence. Twenty-two items reached consensus as essential to assessment, treatment, or therapist training. Conclusion With adequate therapist training and individualised assessment and treatment, sensory modulation strategies may be a useful clinical approach to improving compression garment adherence in those who are sensory over-responsive post-burn. Further research is needed to gather perceptions from burns therapists, and to implement and evaluate the effectiveness in clinical practice.
... Furthermore, parental reports detailing sensory profiles of their children often highlight issues with tactile processing, i.e. understanding textures and development of movement, as one of the biggest and most challenging aspects of sensory problems in individuals with autism. These issues can make ordinary situations feel overwhelming, so much so that they can interfere with the individuals daily functioning and even result in isolation from the world (Schaaf et al., 2014). Therefore, it is extremely important to understand how visual-tactile processing takes places in autism and understand the role of proprioception to create interventions which can help individuals with autism and their sensory-motor difficulties. ...
Article
In order to have a comprehensible representation of scenes and events, the human brain must combine information from different sensory sources. Integration of visual, tactile, and proprioceptive information is considered vital to this process as it underpins the subjective sense of self and body ownership; which has been linked to the development of social processes such as empathy and imitation. This issue has been investigated using sensory illusions and suggests that individuals with autism are less prone to multimodal illusions due to atypical sensory integration, i.e. they tend to rely on a single sensory source more, rather than integrating concurrent sources of information (i.e. over-reliance on proprioception). Studies that have measured illusion susceptibility and ownership, especially in regards to body ownership have provided mixed results. Therefore, it is important to understand and advance our knowledge on illusion susceptibility using sensory illusions. In order to conduct this research, it was first required to identify typically developing individuals who have high and low autism tendencies using the Autistic Spectrum Quotient (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001b). This was important because previous research has indicated behavioral similarities between individuals with high autism traits and those with high-functioning autism (HfA). The primary aim of this research was to investigate whether individuals with high autism traits and those with a diagnosis of autism perform in a similar way in terms of illusion susceptibility and illusion ownership, as previous research has stated differences in illusion susceptibility (Palmer et al., 2013; Paton et al., 2012). Three different multisensory illusions were presented to all the participants using the MIRAGE mediated reality device. This device enables the experimenter to presentvarious illusions on the participants’ limbs, where manipulations can be applied over the hand. Illusion ownership and susceptibility statements were used to measure the subjective experience of the participants, whereas, finger localization tasks were used as an objective measure of susceptibility to the illusions. Experiments One and Two investigated the effects of crawling skin illusion which is a visual illusion that can produce somatosensory sensations without any tactile input- as this illusory percept manipulates an individual’s existing knowledge regarding their own hand (McKenzie & Newport, 2015). The results indicated that individuals with high AQ scores (compared to low AQ, Experiment 1) and HfA (compared to typically developing adults, Experiment 2) showed less influence of visual context. They reported reduced effects of the illusion, which could be due to a higher reliance on top- down knowledge. However, all the participating groups showed high ownership of their hand as viewed through the MIRAGE. Participants with high and low autism traits (Experiment 3) and adults with HfA as well as typically developing adults (Experiment 4) were presented with the finger stretching illusion (Newport et al., 2015) which involves an interplay of vision, touch and proprioception. The results obtained showed that participants across all groups had high ownership score, however, only the low AQ group and the control group were susceptible to the illusion. An estimation task was used to measure whether participants embodied the illusion, adults with high AQ scores and HfA showed superior performance during the estimation task, however, the control groups estimates were significantly further, hence, making them more susceptible to the visuo- tactile manipulation. The third illusion measured visuo- proprioceptive integration in individuals with high and low AQ scores (Experiment 5) and adults with HfA as well as typically developing adults (Experiment 6). The task involved participants estimating the location of their hidden index finger under different conditions i.e. participants were able to view their hand or the view of their hand was hidden. Participants first took part in an adaptation procedure (Newport & Gilpin, 2011) which involved relocating the hand from where the participants last saw their hand. This was to test whether individuals with high autism traits and those with HfA showed superior proprioceptive performance in estimating their index finger location. The results indicated that the HfA and the high AQ groups were less affected by the visuo- proprioceptive misalignment caused during the adaptation procedure. Participants with low AQ scores and the typically developing group’s estimates were more influenced by the visual input. In conclusion, none of the experiments found strong evidence of over-reliance on proprioception in individuals with high AQ or those with HfA, however, they showed superior estimation abilities than the control group. My findings suggest that there is a preference, but not over- reliance on, for proprioception as opposed to visual and tactile information in the high AQ scoring group and the HfA group. Over- relying on a single sensory source, while not integrating multisensory information could have a detrimental impact on sensory processing and social interactions, especially the visuo- tactile system as it enables an individual to experience the environment through touch and understand everyday sensations such as temperature, pressure, itching, pain, etc. For future research, this research highlights the importance of studying the visual-tactile domain. An individual’s ability to process tactile input is related to their ability to visually discriminate and to have appropriate body awareness, which in turn helps in developing emotional security, academic learning, and social skills that are some of the core issues often reported in individuals with autism (Corbett et al., 2009; Happé & Frith, 2006; Piek & Dyck, 2004; Tager-Flusberg, 2008). More so, research investigating such processes should involve the whole spectrum of autism rather than focusing on a smaller subset.
... Such a highly-tailored treatment thus necessitates an idiographic measurement approach capable of reliably measuring individual outcomes across participants (Ruble et al., 2012). The use of GAS to measure outcomes in randomized trials of interventions for youth with ASD is growing (Ruble et al., 2018;Schaaf et al., 2014), and specifically recommended to measure the effect of occupational therapy intervention, given the individualized nature of occupational therapy (Mailloux et al., 2007). In the current study, GAS demonstrated sensitivity to change across diverse goals related to social communication, self-regulation, and play. ...
Article
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The purpose of this study was to identify appropriate outcome measures and assess preliminary efficacy of occupational therapy in an equine environment (OTee HORSPLAY) for youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Twenty-four youth with ASD aged 6–13 were randomized to 10 weeks of OTee HORSPLAY or to a waitlist control condition, occupational therapy in a garden. Youth demonstrated significantly improved goal attainment and social motivation, and decreased irritability after OTee HORSPLAY. When compared to the subset of participants who completed the waitlist control condition, the OTee HORSPLAY group still demonstrated significant improvements in goal attainment. This study provides preliminary evidence that horses can be integrated into occupational therapy for youth with ASD to improve social and behavioral goals.
Chapter
Intellectual disability (ID) is a lifelong condition of impaired cognitive ability associated with deficits in adaptive functioning. The reported prevalence of mental illness in people with ID differs owing to different methods of sampling and case ascertainment. The recognition and diagnosis of mental illness in people with ID can be complicated by atypical presentations and communication limitations. It is now understood that people with ID across the lifespan are at least as likely to experience mental health conditions as the general population. The aim of this chapter is to discuss in detail some of the causes of mental illness and their interaction in individuals with ID. A conventional biopsychosocial framework is most appropriate to understanding the causes and consequences of mental illness in this group. We also discuss the challenges of diagnosing mental illness in individuals with ID and common comorbidities such as autism, ADHD and epilepsy.
Article
Resumo Objetivo Averiguar a ocorrência e o tipo de hipersensibilidade auditiva em crianças com sinais clínicos de Transtorno do Espectro do Autismo por meio do relato dos pais no contexto da pandemia da COVID-19. Método Trata-se de um estudo transversal e descritivo, composto por pais de 11 crianças com sinais clínicos de risco para Transtorno do Espectro do Autismo. As crianças eram de ambos os sexos, com média de 44,8 meses de idade. Os pais responderam, por meio de contato telefônico, a um questionário, previamente validado, sobre comportamentos de hipersensibilidade auditiva de seus filhos. Foi considerado como sinalizador de hipersensibilidade a pontuação igual ou superior a oito pontos no escore geral. Resultados 63,6% das crianças apresentaram resultado indicativo de hipersensibilidade e 54,5% obtiveram pontuação máxima nas questões relacionadas à irritabilidade a sons específicos. Os sons citados como geradores de irritabilidade foram: palmas, fogos, gritos, ferramentas de construção, canto e toque de celular. Conclusão Constatou-se ocorrência de hipersensibilidade auditiva, especialmente relacionada à irritabilidade, o que sugere relação com o sistema límbico e, portanto, pode remeter à misofonia. Assim, torna-se importante a equipe multidisciplinar atentar-se à ocorrência e a características de hipersensibilidade dessa população, a fim de maximizar condições favoráveis à reabilitação.
Article
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are associated with co-morbidities such as gastrointestinal (GI) symptomatology, which in the absence of known causes are potential indicators of gut microbiota that may influence behavior. This study's purpose was to explore relationships among clinical GI indicators-diet, abdominal pain, and stool status-and ASD symptom severity, specifically social and sensory symptoms. Participants were 33 children with ASD, 3 to 16 years. The Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS-2) and the Child Sensory Profile Scale (CSP-2) were used to appraise social and sensory symptomatology. Significant difference was found in overall SRS-2, t(31) = -3.220, p = 0.003 when compared by abdominal pain status using independent samples t-tests. Significant difference was observed for overall CSP-2, t(31) = -2.441, p = 0.021, when grouped by stool. The three clinical GI variables predicted overall SRS-2 score using multiple linear regression, F(3, 32) = 3.257, p = 0.036; coefficient for abdominal pain significantly contributed to the outcome. Findings contribute to the growing literature signaling the need to understand occurrence of GI symptomatology more deeply, and in consideration of diet status and its implications in the children's everyday lives, behaviors, and symptom severity.
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MeSH TERMS education, professional evidence-based practice occupational therapy research sensation disorders This article builds on the work of Case-Smith and colleagues and proposes a roadmap to guide future research in occupational therapy. To foster best practice in the application of principles and practices of sensory integration (SI), the pillars of practice, advocacy, and education are identified as elements that provide the foundation for research. Each pillar ensures that SI research is conducted in a rigorous and relevant manner. To this end, achievements to date are discussed, with proposed goals presented for each pillar. Finally, the roadmap builds on the pillars and outlines implications for occupational therapy with the over-arching theme that a wide array of scientists, educators, therapists, and service recipients will be needed to ensure that those who may benefit most have access to intervention that is evidence based, theory driven, and provided within the highest standards of service delivery.
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A mental health enterprise may be described by either (a) rather general philosophical total mental health goals, or (b) highly diverse and individualized patient-therapist goals. Goals a. have not provided a workable framework for program evaluation. This paper proposes that evaluation be done in the framework of goals b. by setting up, before treatment, a measurable scale for each patient-therapist goal, and specifying, for each patient, a transformation of his overall goal attainment into a standardized T-score. This method, together with random assignment of patients to treatment modes, was devised to permit comparison of treatment modes within a program, but it also provides a good basis for a judgmental evaluation of the total program.
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Autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity during sensory stimulation was measured in 59 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) ages 6-9 in comparison to 30 typically developing controls. Multivariate comparisons revealed significant differences between groups in the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (parasympathetic measure) vector of means across sensory stimuli (p = 0.02) and in change from domain to domain (p = 0.01). Sympathetic activity, measured by pre-ejection period, did not differ significantly between groups, although it was higher in ASD participants. Findings suggest that participants with ASD demonstrated a different pattern of parasympathetic activity during sensory stimulation. Findings are discussed in relation to the biological mechanisms of sensory processing in autism, insight into the autism phenotype, and the utility of ANS activity as an outcomes marker.
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The purpose of this study was to examine the construct validity of the praxis tests of the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) and to determine whether the practic component of sensory integration-based developmental dyspraxia is a unitary or a multidimensional disorder. Developmental dyspraxia is an impaired ability to plan and execute skilled or nonhabitual motor tasks; however, its underlying cause, or even whether praxis is a unitary or multidimensional function, is not yet clarified. In this study, the Rasch model of measurement (Linacre, 1989; Wright & Masters, 1982; Wright & Stone, 1979) was used to explore the underlying construct of developmental dyspraxia. The Rasch model was chosen because its use enabled us to (a) confirm goodness-of-fit of individual items within SIPT praxis tests and (b) examine the hierarchical structure of item difficulties. The data included the raw scores of the SIPT praxis tests of 210 subjects from Canada and the United States. The results of the Rasch analyses revealed that each of these five SIPT praxis tests measures a single, unidimensional construct. When the items from the five tests were combined to create a single 117-item test, the items continued to define a single practic function. This indicates that a unitary practic component underlies both bilateral integration and sequencing deficits and somatodyspraxia. Finally, examination of the hierarchy of item difficulties resulted in recommendations for the development of a single screening test for developmental dyspraxia. The implications of these results for clinical practice and future research are discussed.
Article
Problem/Condition: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities characterized by atypical development in socialization, communication, and behavior. ASDs typically are apparent before age 3 years, with associated impairments affecting multiple areas of a person's life. Because no biologic marker exists for ASDs, identification is made by professionals who evaluate a child's developmental progress to identify the presence of developmental disorders. Reporting Period: 2006. Methods: Earlier surveillance efforts indicated that age 8 years is a reasonable index age at which to monitor peak prevalence. The identified prevalence of ASDs in U.S. children aged 8 years was estimated through a systematic retrospective review of evaluation records in multiple sites participating in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Data were collected from existing records in 11 ADDM Network sites (areas of Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) for 2006. To analyze changes in identified ASD prevalence, CDC compared the 2006 data with data collected from 10 sites (all sites noted above except Florida) in 2002. Children aged 8 years with a notation of an ASD or descriptions consistent with an ASD were identified through screening and abstraction of existing health and education records containing professional assessments of the child's developmental progress at health-care or education facilities. Children aged 8 years whose parent(s) or legal guardian(s) resided in the respective areas in 2006 met the case definition for an ASD if their records documented behaviors consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR) criteria for autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder--not otherwise specified (PDD NOS), or Asperger disorder. Presence of an identified ASD was determined through a review of data abstracted from developmental evaluation records by trained clinician reviewers. Results: For the 2006 surveillance year, 2,757 (0.9%) of 307,790 children aged 8 years residing in the 11 ADDM sites were identified as having an ASD, indicating an overall average prevalence of 9.0 per 1,000 population (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8.6--9.3). ASD prevalence per 1,000 children aged 8 years ranged from 4.2 in Florida to 12.1 in Arizona and Missouri, with prevalence for the majority of sites ranging between 7.6 and 10.4. For 2006, ASD prevalence was significantly lower in Florida (p<0.001) and Alabama (p<0.05) and higher in Arizona and Missouri (p<0.05) than in all other sites. The ratio of males to females ranged from 3.2:1 in Alabama to 7.6:1 in Florida. ASD prevalence varied by type of ascertainment source, with higher average prevalence in sites with access to health and education records (10.0) compared with sites with health records only (7.5). Although parental or professional concerns regarding development before age 36 months were noted in the evaluation records of the majority of children who were identified as having an ASD, the median age of earliest documented ASD diagnosis was much later (range: 41 months [Florida]--60 months [Colorado]). Of 10 sites that collected data for both the 2002 and 2006 surveillance years, nine observed an increase in ASD prevalence (range: 27%--95% increase; p<0.01), with increases among males in all sites and among females in four of 11 sites, and variation among other subgroups. Interpretation: In 2006, on average, approximately 1% or one child in every 110 in the 11 ADDM sites was classified as having an ASD (approximate range: 1:80--1:240 children [males: 1:70; females: 1:315]). The average prevalence of ASDs identified among children aged 8 years increased 57% in 10 sites from the 2002 to the 2006 ADDM surveillance year. Although improved ascertainment accounts for some of the prevalence increases documented in the ADDM sites, a true increase in the risk for children to develop ASD symptoms cannot be ruled out. On average, although delays in identification persisted, ASDs were being diagnosed by community professionals at earlier ages in 2006 than in 2002. Public Health Actions: These results indicate an increased prevalence of identified ASDs among U.S. children aged 8 years and underscore the need to regard ASDs as an urgent public health concern. Continued monitoring is needed to document and understand changes over time, including the multiple ascertainment and potential risk factors likely to be contributing. Research is needed to ascertain the factors that put certain persons at risk, and concerted efforts are essential to provide support for persons with ASDs, their families, and communities to improve long-term outcome.