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Home-based Sensory Exercises Can Benefit Autistic Kids

Home-based Sensory Exercises Can Benefit Autistic Kids New research suggests performing simple sensory exercises at home may improve the behaviors of children with autism.

The treatment, known as environmental enrichment, led to significant gains in behaviors among autistic boys between the ages of 3 and 12. Parents used everyday items such as scents, spoons and sponges to perform the sessions, said researchers from the University of California – Irvine.

Study co-authors Drs. Cynthia Woo and Michael Leon randomly assigned 28 boys to one of two groups, balanced for age and autism severity.

For half a year, all subjects participated in standard autism therapies, but those in one group also had daily sensory enrichment exercises.

Parents of these children were given a kit containing household products to increase environmental stimulation, including essential-oil fragrances such as apple, lavender, lemon and vanilla. The boys smelled four of these scents a day and listened to classical music each evening.

In addition, the parents conducted twice-daily sessions of four to seven exercises with their children involving different combinations of sensory stimuli — touch, temperature, sight and movement among them. Each session took 15 to 30 minutes to complete.

After six months of therapy, 42 percent of the children in the enrichment group showed significant improvement in behaviors commonly affected by autism — such as relating to people, having typical emotional responses and listening — compared with 7 percent in the standard-care group.

They also scored higher in cognitive function, whereas average scores for the boys in the standard-care group decreased. Moreover, 69 percent of parents in the enrichment group reported improvement, compared with 31 percent of parents in the standard-care group.

“Because parents can give their child sensory enrichment using items typically available in their home, this therapy provides a low-cost option for enhancing their child’s progress,” said Woo, an assistant project scientist in neurobiology and behavior.

Exposing children to enriched sensory experiences builds upon previous research in other laboratories in which animals exposed to such environments had a great reduction in the behavioral and cognitive symptoms associated with a wide range of neurological disorders, including those resembling autism.

The researchers noted that most current therapies for autism must be started at a very young age to be successful, while the average age in this study was six years, six months.

“We believe that sensory enrichment can be an effective therapy for the treatment of autism, particularly among children past the toddler stage,” said Leon, a professor of neurobiology and behavior affiliated with UC Irvine’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment.

“At the same time, we need to know whether we can optimize the treatment, whether there are subgroups of children for whom it’s more effective, whether the therapy works for older or younger children, and whether it can be effective on its own.”

He and Woo are now conducting a second, larger randomized clinical trial that includes girls.

“We’ve observed case studies in which the sensory enrichment therapy was used without any other therapy, and those children were clearly responsive to it,” Leon added.

“We hope this new treatment will benefit children with autism, their parents and society as a whole.”

Study results have been published online in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience.

Source: University of California–Irvine

Autism word collage photo by shutterstock.

Home-based Sensory Exercises Can Benefit Autistic Kids

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Home-based Sensory Exercises Can Benefit Autistic Kids. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2013/05/22/home-based-sensory-exercises-can-benefit-autistic-kids/55121.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.