Optimizing the Developing Brain

I just completed the Ayres Sensory Integration (ASI) 180 hour training! My last 4-day class was in Santa Rosa and sadly, there was no time to visit any wineries 😉 Kidding aside, being surrounded by so many incredible experts in the field was a truly special experience. 

 The coolest part of the course (for me) was the accompanying DEEP evidence that this treatment method shows positive outcomes. The ASI collaborative sites hundreds of peer-reviewed articles to prove the benefits and in my last module, 236 articles were referenced to be exact! 

Jean Ayres was one of first Occupational Therapists to design an intervention based on research creating the scientific “Sensory Integration Theory.” The framework was developed primarily for use within Occupational Therapy, but is also adapted for use in physical therapy, speech therapy, education, and psychology. It was termed ‘Sensory Integration’ in 1979 as “the organization of sensation for use.”  

 Ayres completed extensive research from 1963- 2015, finding specific sensory integration patterns that inform our practice. The foundation is based on the science of neuroplasticity, linking sensory input to brain function and behavior. The idea is that we perceive and attach meaning to sensation in order to perform higher order functions. If our sensation is impaired or disorganized, our brain will also be disorganized, leading to difficulties in performance. 

 The “gold standard” assessment given to test sensory integrative functions is called the SIPT (Sensory Integrative and Praxis Test). It is not easy to explain – nor understand – how the areas tested have such a large impact on performance in daily life, but they DO. A skilled therapist must understand the integrating effects our Seven Senses have on our central nervous system. ASI may look like play, but it goes beyond sensory motor tasks and is truly an art, giving our children the drive to organize their brain through participation in meaningful and purposeful activities. 

 ASI has become an evidenced-based treatment for Autism, but is also effective for children with learning and behavioral challenges. A 2012 Autism Speaks survey asked what therapies worked best for your child and parents reported:

  1. Occupational Therapy- 39%
  2. Speech Therapy- 27%
  3. ABA Therapy- 15%
  4. Social Skills Class- 8%

There is some confusion when we evaluate children because they are extremely bright with a high IQ. However, these children may still not be able to fully access their capabilities if certain sensory systems are not functioning properly. When implemented correctly, ASI is profoundly powerful, effective, and meaningful. As my teacher stated, this intervention is the BEST gateway for our children to be their BEST selves!