Sensory integration therapy for children with autism and sensory processing difficulties: the SenITA RCT

Randell E, Wright M, Milosevic S, Gillespie D, Brookes-Howell L, Busse-Morris M, Hastings R, Maboshe W, Williams-Thomas R, Mills L, Romeo R, Yaziji N, McKigney AM, Ahula A, Warren G, Glarou E, Delport S, McNamara R
Record ID 32017000097
Original Title: A pragmatic randomised controlled trial of sensory integration therapy versus usual care for sensory processing difficulties in autism spectrum disorder in children: impact on behavioural difficulties, adaptive skills and socialisation (SenITA)
Authors' objectives: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common lifelong condition affecting 1 in 100 people. ASD affects how a person relates to others and the world around them. Difficulty responding to sensory information (noise, touch, movement, taste, sight) is common in ASD. This might include feeling overwhelmed or distressed by loud or constant low-level noise e.g. in the classroom. Affected children may also show little or no response to these sensory cues. These sensory processing difficulties' are associated with behaviour and socialisation problems, and affect education, relationships, and participation in daily life. Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) is a type of face-to-face therapy or treatment, provided by trained occupational therapists. The therapist uses play-based sensory-motor activities to influence the way the child responds to sensation, reducing distress and improving concentration and interaction with others. Research suggests SIT might be helpful for some children. In this study we are interested in whether, compared to treatment normally offered to families ( usual care'), SIT improves the child's behaviour, socialisation and daily functioning. Usual care could involve some contact with an occupational therapist, who might give parents strategies to practice at home with their child. It is much less common though to be offered the kind of structured one-to-one regular contact involved in SIT (26 face-to-face sessions over 26 weeks in this study). We will compare SIT to usual care in a sample of 216 children and will assess behaviour, daily functioning, socialisation, and parent/carer stress at 6 and 12 months using questionnaires. Those who agree to take part will be allocated at random (i.e. by chance) to either SIT or usual care by an online programme. We will organise discussion groups for therapists and carers before approaching people to take part, so that we can map out what people normally receive as usual care'. Carers will be given diaries (paper-based or electronic) to record their contact with NHS and other services (e.g. social care). We are also interested in carers' views of their experience in the study and of their child's sensory problems. We will interview a sample of carers at 6 months. We will also interview therapists to get a sense of what intervention was actually provided to people in the study. We will assess the cost of providing this type of treatment, compared to usual care. Once approximately 10% of study participants have completed the 6-month assessment, we will look at a sample of carer diaries to see whether SIT is different (in content or amount of contact) to usual care. The study will only continue if this is confirmed. We will also look at the number of people willing to take part and whether they continue to participate in all sessions and assessments. We have discussed this proposal with a parent of a child with sensory processing difficulties and currently receiving SIT. We will also involve volunteers from the National Autistic Society (NAS) and Cerebra in planning our research. We will organise an event for affected families to publicise the results and make a summary available to organisations like NAS to include on their websites. A summary will also be made available via social media.
Project Status: Completed
Year Published: 2022
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Not Assigned
Country: England, United Kingdom
MeSH Terms
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Child
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Perception
  • Quality of Life
  • Autistic Disorder
Organisation Name: NIHR Health Technology Assessment programme
Contact Address: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health and Care Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK
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