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

e American Academy of Pediatrics subcommittee on autism and an associate professor of pediatrics at University of Rochester Medical Center, in Rochester, N.Y.

Instead of chalking up various aversions or compulsions to sensory processing disorder, health care providers need to consider what other developmental issues may be going on with the child, such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and so on, Zimmer said.

"There has never been a study that has shown that a child can have just sensory processing disorder, isolated from another developmental disabilities, such as autism or ADHD," Zimmer said.

Sensory integration therapy got its start in the 1970s, when an occupational therapist described a theory for how a well-organized sensory system develops. Children, the therapist postulated, gradually learn to make use of information from a variety of sources at the same time in order to understand the world. The theory is that sensory dysfunction occurs when these systems don't develop correctly.

In sensory integration therapy, occupational therapists put children on a "sensory diet," exposing them to different sights, smells, sounds and sensations, to improve the brain's ability to process the information.

For now, however, whether it works remains a theory, Zimmer said.

Zimmer noted that occupational therapists in her hospital's autism center uses sensory therapies, and anecdotally, she's seen sensory therapy appear to help some children.

"We are happy to support parents who want to try to these therapies, but we also need to use caution in making sure that the use of these therapies is improving some outcome for their child," Zimmer said.

In the absence of controlled clinical trials testing whether sensory therapies work, parents have to try to be objective, ask themselves tough questions about whether the treatment is really working, set specific goals and determine if the child is moving to
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