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Doubt Cast on Usefulness of 'Sensory' Therapies for Autism
Date:5/28/2012

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 28 (HealthDay News) -- Sensory therapies using brushes, swings and other play equipment are increasingly used by occupational therapists to treat children with developmental issues such as autism, but a large pediatricians organization says there isn't much evidence that such therapies actually work.

Still, the group isn't completely discounting the potential of sensory therapies -- it's a ripe area for research, it noted.

But before parents spend the time and money on taking children to sensory therapy, they should know that, as of now, the techniques are largely unproven.

"It's OK for parents to try these types of therapies, but there is little research backing up the effectiveness of these therapies and whether or not they improve long-term outcomes for kids with developmental disabilities," said Dr. Michelle Zimmer, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Zimmer is the co-author of a new American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on what is often referred to as "sensory integration therapy." The policy statement appears online May 28 and in the June print issue of Pediatrics.

According to the pediatrician group, "sensory processing disorder" should not be used as a standalone diagnosis.

No one disputes that children with conditions such as autism can have abnormalities in their responses to sensory stimuli, including sight, taste, touch and sound. For example, autistic children may have aversions to loud noises, to certain food textures or to being touched unexpectedly, Zimmer said.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the problem is with their brain pathways for processing sensory information, as the term "sensory processing disorder" implies.

Instead, some other issue could underlie their reactions to stimuli, such as a behavioral issue, said Dr. Susan Hyman, chair of th
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