Tag Archives: autism

Is Anyone Listening? Sensory/Motor Treatment for Autism

autismIn a scientific article published in Behavioral Neuroscience, May 2013, researchers at the University of California Irvine found that environmental sensory and motor enrichment serves as an effective treatment for autism. This may be the first “official” study demonstrating that sensory/motor treatment can effect change in autistic children. (I actually applied for a government grant back in 1974 to research a significantly more comprehensive developmental-sensory/motor program. It was rejected by the government because there wasn’t any research that would show that it worked—which would have been the point of the study–but the reality is that academic institutions get the funds, not the people who are out there actually making the discoveries.) Sadly, most people in the field still don’t get it. Where would we be without such open-minded people who are in possession of such wisdom? We have since been able to compare literally thousands of children within the spectrum based on the treatments they received prior to NACD’s Targeted Developmental Intervention and with TDI, using the children as their own controls. We have been fine-tuning what works for over forty years and helping these children not only progress faster, but in some cases lose those dysfunctions and behaviors that define autism.

The UCI study found that providing sensory and motor input, even if not individualized to a child’s specific sensory or motor issues, leads to much better overall results than the standard treatment alone. The standard treatment included ABA (applied behavioral analysis), traditional speech therapy, occupational therapy, and social skills therapy. The researchers divided 28 autistic boys, ages 3 to 12, into two groups based on matching ages and severity of autism. The control group underwent standard therapy, and the treatment group received standard therapy along with “directed environmental enrichment.” The directed environmental enrichment included a kit of different objects that were “sensory,” but which they felt addressed common sensory-motor issues for autistic children. The kit contained essential oil fragrances for smell, squares of materials such as sandpaper and felt for touch, pieces of multi-textured materials to walk on, and items to manipulate such as a piggy bank with plastic coins for motor issues. The parents were also directed to do different exercises, such as dip their child’s hand or foot in bowls of water at varying temperatures of hot and cold, or touch the child with metal spoons that had been heated or chilled. The treatment group was directed to do two 15-30 minute sessions twice per day, with each session consisting of a few activities involving different combinations of the sensory stimulation objects and exercises. The children also listened to classical music once a day.

After six months, 69% of the parents of the treatment group children reported improvements in overall autism symptoms, compared to only 31% in the control group. Furthermore, 42% of the children in the treatment group made significant progress in social behaviors and responsiveness, compared to only 7% of the control group. The children in the treatment group also improved perception, reasoning, and other aspects of cognitive function, whereas the control group of children undergoing today’s standard treatment for autism actually had a measured decrease in cognitive function!

I actually find the results pleasantly surprising. As most of our families would testify, the amount of intervention was incredibly minimal and the intervention was neither targeted nor individualized. As we continue to learn, the more specific we can be in understanding the individual and applying very specific targeted treatment, the more effective we can be. Children with the same label can be incredibly dissimilar. I appreciate the UCI team’s work and their acknowledgement of the role of sensory/motor treatment in those within the autism spectrum and for bring this information forward. One would hope that practitioners would not now view this study and adopt the treatment regime used in this study as a model for a basis of treatment, but would open their eyes to the potential and join us in building the understanding and developing really individualized targeted programs and, based on that knowledge, to help in the development of more and better tools. Having worked with the sensory/motor issues related to autism since the late sixties, and having put information out for the public’s use for over forty years, I would hope and think that more people would be listening. This isn’t new information! It never ceases to amaze me that of the thousands of therapists and educators who view firsthand the children that work with NACD and the difference that Targeted Developmental Intervention makes, that only a handful ever want to understand what produced that change. But it only takes a few dedicated free thinkers to get involved, to help us reach a critical mass, produce a tipping point, and change perspectives and lives. I am happy to speak with or assist any researcher, therapist, physician, or educator who would like to learn more about what we have been doing for all these years and what we have found that works. After so many thousands of children from around the world and so many years of striving to understand and treat these issues better, we have actually learned a thing or two. And, as always, we are looking to help any parent who wishes to help their child.

Related Links

Original Article (PDF): Environmental Enrichment as an Effective Treatment for Autism: A Randomized Controlled Trial – Cynthia C. Woo and Michael Leon – U.C. Irvine – Behavioral Neuroscience May 2013

To learn more about NACD’s Targeted Developmental Intervention:

To learn more about NACD’s approach to treatment for autism:

The Right Tool For the Job

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
–Abraham Maslow

autism_articleMost days confirm the reality that you really can’t have to many tools in your toolbox. Today I saw a fourteen-year-old “autistic” young man. Zach has been on program for a number of years and has done quite well in most respects. His parents have been quite pleased with his development and changes, particularly the changes that have occurred in the past year and most significantly in the past three months, when the pieces really started coming together at an accelerated rate. Zach has come from being a constantly stimming, DSA (Debilitating Sensory Addiction) out-of-it, unmanageable, difficult, non-communicative child to a boy who goes everywhere with his family, interacts socially, and has become a fun, interactive member of his family.

At NACD we have over 3000 tools (methods and techniques) that we can pull out of our toolbox when we create a program for a child. Our challenge is to look at the child globally, then look at the various issues to be addressed, determine priorities, evaluate the time and manpower that can be dedicated to the child, and then apply what we feel are the best tools for the job. Most programs for children like Zack incorporate tools to address their health and diet, gross and fine motor issues, sensory issues, hearing, vision, auditory and visual processing, speech and language, behavior, cognition, and academic function. We could easily use 20-30 different tools in each program.

Part of the process for us is to constantly evaluate, replace, and add to our toolbox. Our perception as an organization is that we can never help a child or a family fast enough or take them far enough. Being an international organization and being able to view the results of the application of many tools with thousands of children covering the full spectrum of ability and disability aids in this process. Through the years, although we have this huge toolbox, we are constantly identifying issues for which there are no adequate tools and thus set out to create the needed new tools.

During this past year, and particularly the last three months, we have all seen not just a Zachary who is progressing, but a Zach who is changing. His affect is now that of a typical child; his DSAs have diminished dramatically; he is engaged; and his speech and language have improved about 1000%. This dramatic change was started with a recommendation from us a year ago that the family purchase Zach a fantastic new tool, the iPad. Prior to Zach’s discovery of one of the greatest tools ever created for our special needs children, there was nothing that Zach could do independently or appropriately engage with or in. He needed to have someone engaging him every waking minute of the day, or he would fall into his DSA pit. Zach’s family was successful in teaching Zach to play with the iPad, starting off with 5-10 second exposures to basic cause and effect apps and then gradually increasing the frequency and duration of exposure, as well as the complexity and variety of apps. During this period Zach was able to start using our NACD Simply Smarter Kids-Memory app. With the development of Simply Smarter Kids we had for the first time a tool in our toolbox to actively work on Zach’s short-term memory and working memory. Although we have dozens of 1:1 processing activities as well as software and online programs to address these processing issues, we did not have a really great tool to use with a child at his level of function. With the proper tool we were able to really start teaching Zach how to process what he heard and saw and to think and raise his global level of maturity. Simultaneously we used our TSI (Targeted Sound Intervention): Focused Attention program, which helped Zach to separate and isolate words and language from the world of background noise and interference. Once we had Zach really hearing language and getting his auditory processing moving, we were able to use our new NACD Home Speech Therapist—Speech Therapy for Apraxia app with Zach so that he is now developing the ability to speak and even sing intelligibly. Today was a good day. I’m delighted with the changes in Zach and his prospects for the future, and I’m really pleased with the effectiveness of the new tools in our toolbox. All problems are not nails and hammers can’t fix everything; and it is so sad and tragic that so many practitioners are so content to keep using the same tool over and over again and keep trying to pound that nail.