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city urban bw brazilAlthough today I was sent a copy of a link to an article entitled “First significant study on autism and homelessness”, this is not the first I have known about the increased risk of homelessness in those with Autism or ways that as a profession Occupational Therapy can offer something to help reduce this risk.

For a number of years, OT’s have been talking about the risks of loss of occupation, social connection and homelessness for their clients with Autism. We know once the structure, safety and services of childhood and school and sometimes higher education are gone, things can become tricky. And we know about Ayres’ Sensory Integration, can help minimise the impact of sensory differences on development and skills necessary for everyday life.

In 2015 a briefing for frontline staff on Autism and Homelessness suggested that 12% of people diagnosed with autism in Wales had experienced homelessness. while among rough-sleepers in Devon, 9/14 might be classified as being on the autistic spectrum.

To read the 2015 briefing click here
The new study found almost identical data to the small study from Wales. The new study agrees that 12.3% of homeless people have traits of autism highly suggestive of an Autism diagnosis, in contrast to 1% in the general population.
This latest study in the peer peer-reviewed journal, Autism supports this earlier small-scale study evidence that adults with autism are over-represented among the homeless.
Now, the researchers and many organisations including the National Autistic Society are calling for more research to understand the links between autism and homelessness, so that prevention strategies can improve and support those who are at risk of becoming or are already homeless.
action alone beach boy
As an Occupational Therapist, I am perplexed and confused. Occupational Therapists working with young people with autism have for a long time repeatedly highlighted the risks of not addressing the difficulties of their paediatric clients. Ayres’ Sensory Integration therapy is about developing and learning transferrable play, school and life skills.
When this does not happen, as part of typical development, and remain unaddressed, then our young clients grow into adults with the same difficulties and challenges  – this is just common sense.
“The profession of occupational therapy should now wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to grow our profession’s reputation – addressing sensory difficulties that challenge our clients with autism and prevent them from full participation in the occupational activities they choose to engage in.”        Smith @ ISIC 2018
These skills are usually learned through play, as part of typical development when a child is able to take in, make sense of and respond to the sensory events around them and within their own bodies. It is through this repeated interaction and learning via our senses that we use feedback to make memories and develop patterns of behavours.
adult alone bracelet casualWe use then use feedback and memory to think about and anticipate (feed-forward) what to do in new and novel situations – and to make the best choice of plan and carry it out. It is this that allows us to keep doing and learning, developing patterns of behaviour and increasingly more skillful behaviors and abilities. It is our ability to accurately process and integrate sensation that allows children to eventually become independent, capable adults, participating and functioning fully in all the occupational activities that are part of our adult life.
“Sensory Integration sorts, orders and eventually puts all the sensory inputs together into whole brain function. What emerges from this process is increasingly complex behavior, the adaptive response and occupational engagement.”
Ayres 1979
We have been left a rich history and legacy by Jean A Ayres and colleagues who first developed and then tested sensory integration theory in practice. Progress in the field of neuroscience has led to further development of the theory and tools for practice;  more recent developments in the field include the Fidelity Tool, Data Driven Decision Making Tool and, in development right now, the EASI (Evaluation of Ayres’ Sensory Integration), with increasingly more robust research studies with improved methodology.
More than any other profession, Occupational Therapists trained in Ayres’ Sensory Integration* have within their toolboxes the therapeutic skills to make meaningful measurable changes to their young and older client’s abilities to process and integrate sensation; learning that is truly life-changing.
Occupational Therapists trained in Ayres’ Sensory Integration* are able to address the underlying sensory challenges that research suggests underpins the difficulties commonly associated with Autism, that can impact on the development; movement, play, self-care and social interaction skills necessary to participate in occupation as we grow older.

A recent research study from a randomised control trial (one of the best types of research there is) in the USA by Schaaf and colleagues; An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism: A Randomized Trial has shown Ayres’ Sensory Integration* makes a big difference to some of the skills children need to develop to become increasingly independent from caregivers as they get older.

Young people in the study group scored significantly better after therapy with Ayres’ Sensory Integration than young people in the care as usual group. Goal Attainment Scales scores and scores about self-care and socialisation skills all showed that after Ayres’ Sensory Integration Therapy* there was a significant improvement not seen in those just getting care as usual.

 


 

*Ayres’ Sensory Integration Therapy is usually a postgraduate qualification, and it is recommended that practitioners have qualifications equivalent to ICEASI Level 2. Please ask your therapist about their level of education in Ayres’ Sensory Integration.

 

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