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Research for Practice: Sensory Integration and Dyslexia.


Ayres’ published her research findings, making a case for emerging patterns of sensory integration dysfunction including;   

  • developmental dyspraxia – this pattern linking motor planning difficulties with deficits in tactile perception
  • difficulties with integration of both sides of the body; poor right-left discrimination, difficulties crossing the midline, and  reduced bilateral motor coordination – impacting on posture and postural control, thought to related difficulties processing vestibular input 
  • visual perception, form and space perception deficits impacting on visual-motor functions
  • difficulties with visual figure-ground discrimination
  • deficits in auditory and language functions.
  • tactile defensiveness and related sensory reactivity difficulties impacting negatively on attention 

A key feature of Ayres’ Sensory Integration is the adaptive response;  “an adaptive response is a purposeful, goal-directed response to a sensory experience … play consists of a series of adaptive responses that make the sensory integration happen. In turn, as sensory integration develops, better organization and more complex skills are possible” Ayres 2005.

In 2013, Viana et al reported that children with dyslexia show poor performance and variability while relating visual and somatosensory information. Children with dyslexia showed less coherent and more variable body sway;  suggesting difficulties in multisensory integration from sensory cues coming from multiple sources.

 

man in brown jacket holding a book

Studies with adults and children found that there is reduced neurophysiological adaptation in adults and children with dyslexia. In 2016, Perrachione et al published research suggesting that people with dyslexia are likely to have differences in sensory integration and processing, noting significantly reduced adaptation to speech from a consistent voice and less adaptation to the repetition of words, objects, and faces. They provide evidence to support the hypothesis that reading skills in dyslexia are related to the degree of neural adaptation.

In 2017 Wandel and Le confirmed the importance of the effective processing of multiple sensory inputs, including successful sensory integration for competent reading. 

“Successful reading involves the ability to efficiently integrate visual signals with the sounds of speech and the language system; thus, diagnosing the reading circuitry requires testing the cortical and white matter regions that carry reading information from the visual, auditory, and language systems. Reading impairment can result from problems within neural circuits that are used for multiple purposes, not uniquely reading (Rayner et al., 2012, Seidenberg, 2017). Hence, we advocate assessing the circuitry broadly, not just portions that are highly specialized for reading.”

In clinical practice, some children with sensory integration difficulties benefit more from the use of coloured overlays. Research from Kriss and Evans (2005) suggests that 

“Children with dyslexia seem to benefit more from coloured overlays than non‐dyslexic children. MIS and dyslexia are separate entities and are detected and treated in different ways. If a child has both problems then they are likely to be markedly disadvantaged and they should receive prompt treatments appropriate to the two conditions. It is recommended that education professionals as well as eye‐care professionals are alert to the symptoms of MIS and that children are screened for this condition, as well as for other visual anomalies.”

Read the full article: The relationship between dyslexia and Meares‐Irlen Syndrome

Read more here:

Dyslexia link to eye spots confusing brain say scientists.

Dyslexia and Sensory Processing, is there a link?

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Research Update: Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) and Pain: A New Perspective

Pain and sensory integration difficulties including sensory sensitivity are thought to be features in many disorders including CFS/ME and hyper mobility. Recent research and evidence is exploring the links.

Abstract “Sensory modulation disorder (SMD) affects sensory processing across single or multiple sensory systems. The sensory over-responsivity (SOR) subtype of SMD is manifested clinically as a condition in which non-painful stimuli are perceived as abnormally irritating, unpleasant, or even painful. Moreover, SOR interferes with participation in daily routines and activities (Dunn, 2007; Bar-Shalita et al., 2008; Chien et al., 2016), co-occurs with daily pain hyper-sensitivity, and reduces quality of life due to bodily pain. Laboratory behavioral studies have confirmed abnormal pain perception, as demonstrated by hyperalgesia and an enhanced lingering painful sensation, in children and adults with SMD. Advanced quantitative sensory testing (QST) has revealed the mechanisms of altered pain processing in SOR whereby despite the existence of normal peripheral sensory processing, there is enhanced facilitation of pain-transmitting pathways along with preserved but delayed inhibitory pain modulation. These findings point to central nervous system (CNS) involvement as the underlying mechanism of pain hypersensitivity in SOR. Based on the mutual central processing of both non-painful and painful sensory stimuli, we suggest shared mechanisms such as cortical hyper-excitation, an excitatory-inhibitory neuronal imbalance, and sensory modulation alterations. This is supported by novel findings indicating that SOR is a risk factor and comorbidity of chronic non-neuropathic pain disorders. This is the first review to summarize current empirical knowledge investigating SMD and pain, a sensory modality not yet part of the official SMD realm. We propose a neurophysiological mechanism-based model for the interrelation between pain and SMD. Embracing the pain domain could significantly contribute to the understanding of this condition’s pathogenesis and how it manifests in daily life, as well as suggesting the basis for future potential mechanism-based therapies.”

Read more here: Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) and Pain: A New Perspective

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Research Update: Sensory Over-Responsivity as an Added Dimension in ADHD

Anecdotally many Occupational Therapists who use Ayres’ Sensory Integration to inform assessment and practice report the close links between ADHD and sensory integration challenges. This article by expert Sensory Integration researchers Shelley Lane and Stacey Reynolds offers research evidence and neuroscience in strong support of the links between differences in processing and integrating sensory input for those who meet criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD.

Abstract “Years of research have added to our understanding of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). None-the-less there is still much that is poorly understood. There is a need for, and ongoing interest in, developing a deeper understanding of this disorder to optimally identify risk and better inform treatment. Here, we present a compilation of findings examining ADHD both behaviorally and using neurophysiologic markers. Drawing on early work of McIntosh and co-investigators, we examined response to sensory challenge in children with ADHD, measuring HPA activity and electrodermal response (EDR) secondary to sensory stressors. In addition, we have examined the relationship between these physiologic measures, and reports of behavioral sensory over-responsivity and anxiety. Findings suggest that sensory responsivity differentiates among children with ADHD and warrants consideration. We link these findings with research conducted both prior to and after our own work and emphasize that there a growing knowledge supporting a relationship between ADHD and sensory over-responsivity, but more research is needed. Given the call from the National Institute of Health to move toward a more dimensional diagnostic process for mental health concerns, and away from the more routine categorical diagnostic process, we suggest sensory over-responsivity as a dimension in the diagnostic process for children with ADHD”.

Read the full article here: Sensory Over-Responsivity as an Added Dimension in ADHD

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AOTA Article: Trauma and OT

Many Occupational Therapists using a sensory integration approach in their clinical practice have worked productively and mindfully with children, adults and older adults with trauma. Our unique education and training facilitates our practice in a range of settings- schools, mental health settings and hospitals, where as a profession we are tasked to address barriers to participation in everyday life.

Occupational Therapists are uniquely placed to be able to offer not only cognitive behavioural and occupation based activities.

Neuroscience now provides us with the evidence to support our practice of Ayres’ Sensory Integration with our clients with trauma – confirming our understanding about how trauma impacts early and ongoing sensory and motor development, underlying physiology and levels of arousal and attention.

Now and into the future, we will need to further consider the evidence for how inter-generational trauma manifests in underlying neurobiological processes that underpin function – the sensory, motor and cognitive building blocks of participation in everyday life.

To read the full article please follow this link. https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Publications/CE-Articles/CE-article-May-2019-Trauma.pdf

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Autism and Homelessness: Why does it matter to OT’s? And it should!

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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