The role of sensory integration in the diagnosis of autism

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Autism Therapy(NaturalHealth365) This month the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM) will be released. In this edition, the DSM-IV-TR, the categories of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified) will be combined into a single ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) category.

ASD will be diagnosed based on two symptom areas:

1. Social communication impairment
2. Restricted interests/repetitive behaviors – this includes hyper and hypo reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment.

Since it is suspected that abnormal sensory processing may hinder social processes, the two categories are linked and helping your child with their sensory issues can help them improve their social skills as well.

Typical therapies for children with autism included applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech and occupational therapy. Occupational therapists will often address sensory integration skills as part of the therapy session. Typical sensory activities include skin brushing, joint compression, playing with slime, sand and other items.

Vibrating toothbrushes are also sometimes used both inside and outside the mouth to reduce oral defensiveness to foods.

In the journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, researchers discussed the potential impact of auditory rhythmic cueing for motor functioning in persons with ASD. Rhythmic cueing has been used with success in Parkinson’s and Stroke patients and success is attributed to processing of rhythm in the brain, motor synchronization to auditory stimulus, the intact motor synchronization ability and the possibility that cueing could activate motor neurons.

Not only were their motor systems strengthened, but their memories improved as well.

A study published in Pediatric Physical Therapy states that 83 percent of children with autism have sensory integration issues and many occupational, physical and vision therapists have begun to incorporate rhythm exercises into their therapy protocol for children with autism.

What are your “rhythmic cueing options”?

Interactive Metronome (IM) has been used for children with ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy as well as major league baseball, football and basketball teams for years. IM is an auditory/visual platform that provides constant feedback at the millisecond level to promote synchronized timing in the brain.

There is a visual cue on a computer screen as well as an auditory cue through headphones and depending on the exercises, the child needs to hit triggers with hands or feet (depending on the exercise). If they are too early or too late they can see it on the screen and adjust their timing. Sessions are conducted at your therapist’s office and a home unit to supplement those sessions is also available.

Scientific Sound has been helping children and adults for years and can even be done on your own at home. Dr. Jeffrey Thompson of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research has worked with Fortune 500 companies to design specific soundscapes for their brainstorming sessions and his sound systems are in clinics, physician’s offices and spas worldwide.

Dr. Thompson’s CDs can be played on a portable CD player with headphones (mp3 play is not recommended unless it is lossless unit) or for the full effect, played on the sound system that comes with the sound chair and light glasses. Dr. Thompson has titles such as “Gamma Meditation” that helps with sensory and others that help with sleep, learning, focus, attention and memory.

Others have had success with rhythmic cueing helping their children with sensory issues by using Tai Chi, Qi Gong, water aerobics and at the Florida at the Frost School – music therapists play queues on keyboards and have their clients coordinate their movements with the beat. Some people speculate that the rocking often seen in children with autism is their way of relieving sensory issues by using their own form of rhythmic cueing.

About the author: Sima Ash of Healing 4 Soul is a clinical and classical homeopath and certified clinical nutritionist who utilizes a unique approach pioneered by Tinus Smits, M.D. called CEASE therapy. The aim of CEASE treatment is systematic detoxification of the causes of illness, leading to step by step improvement and restoration of health in the individual. For additional information, please visit – You can follow Sima on Facebook at ‘Cease Therapy California’ and through her weekly blog on


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  • Lisa Michelson

    I knew that there was a new DSM coming out but I didn’t realize it was in effect already. Thank you for explaining the new criteria and the importance of rhythm. We started interactive metronome with my son and his teacher said he is no longer ‘falling out of his chair’. I am grateful for the reference to the CDs. They look good and are so inexpensive so I will definitely incorporate. I phoned and the woman who answered the phone was super helpful so I’ve got my list of CDs and with shipping all under $60. Thank you again for all of your help.