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The Importance of Sensory Processing in Mental Health: A Proposed Addition to the Research Domain Criteria…

Great to see another article published that focuses us on the importance of understanding more about the links between sensory integration to mental health and wellbeing.

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Great Learning Tool Online: Brain Facts

We love this for our therapists, students, parents and teachers! What a fantastic resource to be able to share. We love their ethos, to spread this knowledge abroad and to different audiences. It would be nice to think OT’s, PT’s and SLT’s doing Ayres’ Sensory Integration can contribute about how we assess and work with the vestibular and other sensory systems in therapy.

Brain Facts Website

Brain Facts YouTube Channel (great teaching and learning videos)

Here is their YouTube about the vestibular system.

Hear more about this global initiative to support learning about neuroscience.



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Research Update: Early Deprivation and Brain Development

A new article has been published which adds more to that we know about deprivation on development of the mind, body and brain.

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Millions of children worldwide live in nonfamilial institutions. We studied impact on adult brain structure of a particularly severe but time-limited form of institutional deprivation in early life experienced by children who were subsequently adopted into nurturing families. Institutional deprivation was associated with lower total brain volume in a dose-dependent way. Regionally specific effects were seen in medial prefrontal, inferior frontal, and inferior temporal areas. Deprivation-related alterations in total brain volume were associated with lower intelligence quotient and more attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms; alterations in temporal volume seemed compensatory, as they were associated with fewer attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. We provide evidence that early childhood deprivation is related to alterations in adult brain structure, despite environmental enrichment in intervening years.

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Download a copy [open access] Early childhood deprivation is associated with alterations in adult brain structure despite subsequent environmental enrichment

More articles here…

Enriched Environments as a Potential Treatment for Developmental Disorders: A Critical Assessment

The beneficial effects of enriched environments have been established through a long history of research. Enrichment of the living conditions of captive animals in the form of larger cages, sensory stimulating objects, and opportunities for social interaction and physical exercise, has been shown to reduce emotional reactivity, ameliorate abnormal behaviors, and enhance cognitive functioning. Recently, environmental enrichment research has been extended to humans, in part due to growing interest in its potential therapeutic benefits for children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). This paper reviews the history of enriched environment research and the use of enriched environments as a developmental intervention in studies of both NDD animal models and children. We argue that while environmental enrichment may sometimes benefit children with NDDs, several methodological factors need to be more closely considered before the efficacy of this approach can be adequately evaluated, including: (i) operationally defining and standardizing enriched environment treatments across studies; (ii) use of control groups and better control over potentially confounding variables; and (iii) a comprehensive theoretical framework capable of predicting when and how environmental enrichment will alter the trajectory of NDDs.

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Early Adverse Experiences and the Developing Brain

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Research Update: Sensory Integration and Functional Reaching in Children With Rett Syndrome/Rett-Related Disorders

In this preliminary study Drobnyk et al (2019) suggest that Ayres’ Sensory Integration may be a playful and fun way to help improve hand coordination in children with Rett Syndrome. Difficulty with hand movements — specifically from thinking about what to do and then doing it, is a difficulty often seen in children with Rett Syndrome. The authors considered it important to find and research possible therapeutic interventions to address this difficulty.

“The loss of functional hand skills is a primary characteristic of Rett syndrome. Stereotypies, dyspraxia, and other sensory processing issues severely limit the individual’s ability to reach toward and sustain grasp on objects. This loss of functional reach and grasp severely limits their ability to participate in self-help, play, and school-related activities.” 

The authors wondered if Ayres’ Sensory Integration Therapy might be such a therapy.  

“There are no studies that specifically examine the effects of ASI therapy on motor planning/praxis, functional reaching, or hand use of individuals with RTT. There is preliminary evidence that this type of therapy may benefit children with sensory processing issues who have other diagnoses…

…We proposed that Ayres Sensory Integration (ASI) treatment would improve sensory processing and motor planning, which would lay the sensory-motor groundwork for improving grasp of objects, an important first step in developing functional hand use.””

The research study findings were small, 

“This study provides preliminary data suggesting that ASI may have small positive effects on the rate of grasping in children with RTT and warrants further study before recommending it in routine practice,” the researchers stated.

However, interestingly they also found the following, and hope to publish these findings also.

“All our study participants exhibited neurological signs involving altered muscle tone, weakness, and balance that contributed to deficits in postural control, mobility, and hand function. Although we observed steady improvements in postural stability/control, balance, and mobility in all participants from the beginning of the intervention period to the end of the post-intervention period, tracking these outcomes was not an aim of this study. We did, however, document these promising observations and we will examine them in a future qualitative study.”

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Research Update: Examining overlap and homogeneity in ASD, ADHD, and OCD: a data-driven, diagnosis-agnostic approach

“Our results motivate a paradigm shift to challenge how ASD, ADHD, and OCD are currently defined, diagnosed, and treated. In particular, this paper adds to the evidence that these diagnoses may not exist as uniquely-defined diagnostic constructs, and highlights the need to discover other groupings that may be more closely aligned with biology and/or response to treatment.”

So, this study by Kushki et al 2019 is by no means simple. However, the results support our clinical experience of the overlap and common features seen in practice. We see similar overlap is the assessment data we gather, particularly when we SIPT our clients with these diagnoses. The study uses state of the art technology and research methodologies, statistical calculations, and techniques I had never heard of. I had to look them up. However, the research appears to support what we see in clinical practice. I look forward to reading more by these researchers in Canada.

“…we used a data-driven, diagnosis-agnostic approach to examine overlap across three neurodevelopmental disorders (ASD, ADHD, and OCD)…we observed that differences in the domains primarily affected in these disorders may exist along a continuum that includes typical development.”

“The majority of the data-driven clusters contained participants from multiple diagnostic categories, highlighting shared phenotypes and neurobiologies among the diagnostic groups.”

“Social difficulties and inattention are commonly reported as shared features of ASD, ADHD, and OCD….our results support the emerging recognition that the existing behaviorally-defined diagnostic labels may not capture etiologically, biologically, and phenomenologically homogeneous groups.

“…our results are consistent with the notion that that the ASD-like features, and to some extent inattention traits, exist across a continuum that includes typical development”

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