Sensory Interventions for Autism

The new DSM-5 Autism Spectrum Disorders diagnostic criteria finally include sensory symptoms (e.g., over or under-responsiveness to or atypical interest in sensory stimuli) as part of the diagnosis and treatment of Autism. This inclusion of sensory symptoms under the domain “restricted repetitive behaviors” (RRB) will expand sensory processing evaluation, research, and interventions related to the functional difficulties of people with Autism. Individuals with Autism and their families have long realized the practical benefits of sensory strategies on daily life, despite the criticisms of this approach by some pediatricians, behaviorists, and researchers.   The DSM-5 eliminates the diagnoses of Asperger’s and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, combining them under the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). ASD is now categorized as Level 1 requiring support, Level 2 requiring substantial support, and Level 3 requiring very substantial support.

Occupational therapists, physicians, and other professionals can consider the affects of sensory processing on behavior, social skills, and activities of daily living when determining the level of support needed. Assessment of sensory processing problems impacting daily functioning can be done efficiently by combining reliable, valid evaluations with observations of the individuals functioning in various settings. There are many types of interrelated sensory processing challenges, so it is important to have a comprehensive assessment of functional skills and sensory processing .


Sensory processing problems in the area of Sensory Modulation (e.g., over or under-responsiveness to or atypical interest in sensory stimuli) are emphasized in the new DSM-5 Autism Diagnosis. A reliable, valid self-report measure of sensory modulation and its impact on behavior and daily functioning is the Sensory Profile The Sensory Profile includes versions that assess all ages, allowing for assessment of how the sensory styles of individuals with Autism and their family members, teachers and co-workers affect functional interactions (e.g., allowing parent coaching regarding functional interaction strategies if both children with Autism and their parents are extremely Sensory Sensitive).


My next blog post will further discuss interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Hazen, E.P., Stornelli, J. L., O’Rourke, J. A., Koesterer, K., McDougle, C. J., (2014). Sensory symptoms in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 22(2), 112-124.

Silva, L.M. & Schalock, M. (2013). Prevalence and significance of abnormal responses in young children with Autism. North American Journal of Medicine and Science, 6(3), 121-127.

Volkmar, F. R., Reichow, B., McPartland, J. (2012). Classification of autism and related conditions: progress, challenges, and opportunities. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 14(3), 229-237.

Whitney, R.V. & Miller-Kuhaneck, H. (2012). Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5 changes to the autism spectrum criteria: A critical moment for occupational Therapists. The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy, 1(1), article 7.



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