New Research: Program Offers Help for Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is closely aligned with autism in that most individuals on the autism spectrum have significant struggles with SPD (autismspeaks.org).
Children with sensory impairments find it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, resulting in challenges such as clumsiness, anxiety, and social and behavioral problems. Additionally, many of them have sensory-related sensitivities which impact them on a daily basis. A recently published study offers help to those with SPD and autism, especially to those who are looking for a program which can be done at home and does not involve medications.
The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation conducted a pilot study on seven children with SPD who went through the iLs program (Integrated Listening Systems), a brain-training program which combines specifically processed music with visual, balance and coordination exercises. The study measured functional, emotional and behavioral changes before and after the 40-session iLs program. In addition to standardized behavioral assessments the study used a physiological measure, EDR (electrodermal response), to measure change in the children’s arousal levels. The researchers use the term ‘arousal’ in reference to the autonomic nervous system; for example, an appropriate level of arousal supports attention and learning, too much arousal results in anxiousness or ‘fight or flight’ behavior.
The iLs program objective is to build a strong neurological foundation for processing information as well as for sustained focus and emotional regulation. While iLs is often used in conjunction with other therapies such as occupational therapy, ABA and speech therapy, for the purposes of the study it was the sole intervention.
The results of the pilot study were significant:
- iLs was conducted at home by parents four times per week, and once a week in clinic with a para-professional;
- Both under-responsive and over-responsive children realized physiological change in the 40 hours of therapy; in other words, those who were over-responsive became less aroused and those who were under-responsive became more aroused.
- ABAS Test (Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, often used for measuring change in autism interventions) showed improvement in all sub-categories, with significant improvement in Communication and Self-care;
- BASC Test (Behavior Assessment System for Children) showed significant changes in 7 of the sub-tests, including Hyperactivity, Aggression, Anxiety, Depression, Atypicality, Adaptability and Activities of Daily Living.
- Excerpt from Conclusion: “This study provides preliminary evidence that iLs is effective in ameliorating conditions for some of the children with sensory over-responsivity and auditory processing impairments…notable changes included following directions, completing daily tasks (e.g. homework, morning routine, putting away belongings) in a timely manner and reducing emotional outbursts.”
- Post testing threemonths after program completion showed that the physiological and behavioral changes were sustained beyond the end of the program
- Parents reported qualitative comments such as the following:
- “His reading scores came up four levels.”
- “He sleeps better.”
- “He is happier at school.”
- “His behavior in school is better.”
- “She is able to joke with others.”
- “He picks up on sarcasm more quickly.”
- “Her face seems more animated.”
Study author, Dr. Sarah Schoen, commented “changes in physiological arousal suggest the iLs program is impacting underlying regulation mechanisms that may be contributing to the observed behavioral changes. Behavioral changes included increased relaxation, fewer meltdowns and a generally calmer disposition for participants whose arousal decreased. This small study is one of the first to provide empirical evidence of the effects of the iLs program and to suggest an impact on underlying physiological mechanisms.”
This article was featured in Issue 44 – Strategies for Daily Life with Autism