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Occupational therapy using a sensory integrative approach for children with developmental disabilities.

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Department of Occupational Therapy, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.


This article provides an introduction and overview of sensory integration theory as it is used in occupational therapy practice for children with developmental disabilities. This review of the theoretical tenets of the theory, its historical foundations, and early research provides the reader with a basis for exploring current uses and applications. The key principles of the sensory integrative approach, including concepts such as "the just right challenge" and "the adaptive response" as conceptualized by A. Jean Ayres, the theory's founder, are presented to familiarize the reader with the approach. The state of research in this area is presented, including studies underway to further delineate the subtypes of sensory integrative dysfunction, the neurobiological mechanisms of poor sensory processing, advances in theory development, and the development of a fidelity measure for use in intervention studies. Finally, this article reviews the current state of the evidence to support this approach and suggests that consensual knowledge and empirical research are needed to further elucidate the theory and its utility for a variety of children with developmental disabilities. This is especially critical given the public pressure by parents of children with autism and other developmental disabilities to obtain services and who have anecdotally noted the utility of sensory integration therapy for helping their children function more independently. Key limiting factors to research include lack of funding, paucity of doctorate trained clinicians and researchers in occupational therapy, and the inherent heterogeneity of the population of children affected by sensory integrative dysfunction. A call to action for occupational therapy researchers, funding agencies, and other professions is made to support ongoing efforts and to develop initiatives that will lead to better diagnoses and effective intervention for sensory integrative dysfunction, which will improve the lives of children and their families.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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