Auditory Integration Training / Photo Rebecca Sicile-Kira

In my last Psychology Today post I discussed sensory processing disorder, and received  comments and  questions from readers.  I had mentioned an article  in The Boston Globe that  mentioned that  a  group of  professionals and parents  was  lobbying to get sensory processing disorder included in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Reader Dr. Joshua Feder wrote in to give us the link where people can provide input:  “Remember, the public commenting on the upcoming DSM-V is still in process and the addition of SPDs is in flux, so if you think it is important you can make your voice heard. Go to http://www.spdfoundation.net/dsmv.html to learn more!

Sensory processing challenges is a hot topic at autism conferences  and this provides me the opportunity of asking adults on the autism spectrum  what we could do to make the sensory aspects of life easier for them, as well as children who may be unable to discuss what they are sensing. I have written up the answers in my book, 41 Things To Know About Autism, and I am mentioning some of them here.

It was no surprise for me  to get answers such as   “Ban leaf blowers,” or “Don’t rev your Harley near me,” and “Add more water fountains to public places.”   The sound of water  can be soothing to many and can mask some of the painful sounds of the city.   There are different methods and treatments that  have helped many who have  sensory processing difficulties. However, there is not that much clinical research on all the diffferent treatments and therapies, so you need to choose widely what makes sense for your particular situation. The information here is not to be considered as medical advice; I am just explaining what others have said  reported as helpful for their situation.  Remember that what works for one person, may not for another.

There are ways to help people who have sensitivities to light and sound. The cheapest and most immediate solutions include:

  • Wearing a baseball cap or hat with a brim and sunglasses, can help with keeping bright lights out of the eyes in brightly lit environments.
  • Headphones with music or white noise can cancel out noisy environment.
  • Desensitization is a way to get a person de-sensitized or used to certain environments, for example  an overly-lit store, by going in a few minutes the first time and then increasing the time spent in that environment.

Some treatments that have helped individuals include:

  • Biomedical Interventions in the form of diets and supplements: Donna Williams, author of nine books on autism, credits diets tailored to her specific allergies, as well as supplements, as having helped her overcome many of sensory issues.
  • Auditory Integration Therapies: Individuals wear headphones and listen to modulated sounds and music, with certain frequencies filtered out. There are different methods, one developed by Dr. Guy Berard, another by Dr. Alfred Tomatis. Other types of listening programs include The Listening Program and Samonas Auditory Intervention.
  • Vision therapy:  This therapy, which can consist of a combination of exercises and lenses, can be effective to help process incoming information for someone whose vision processing is not working correctly.
  • Occupational Therapy: The aim of OT is to help a person meet goals in areas of everyday life that are important to them. OT’s canhelp with propioceptive and vestibular challenges as well.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy: This specialty area of OT is carried out by occupational therapists specifically trained in this method. The term sensory integration refers to the way the brain organizes sensations and input received to then engage in the environment.
  • Sensory diet: Often an OT will prescribe a sensory diet of activities to be repeated numerous times a day at regular intervals to help the child stay regulated. As a child gets older, he can learn some activities he can do to help himself. The child then learns self-regulation techniques as he gets older.

This post was published on PsychologyToday.com on March 14, 2010.