A systematic review of sensory processing interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders

Autism. 2015 Feb;19(2):133-48. doi: 10.1177/1362361313517762. Epub 2014 Jan 29.


Children with autism spectrum disorders often exhibit co-occurring sensory processing problems and receive interventions that target self-regulation. In current practice, sensory interventions apply different theoretic constructs, focus on different goals, use a variety of sensory modalities, and involve markedly disparate procedures. Previous reviews examined the effects of sensory interventions without acknowledging these inconsistencies. This systematic review examined the research evidence (2000-2012) of two forms of sensory interventions, sensory integration therapy and sensory-based intervention, for children with autism spectrum disorders and concurrent sensory processing problems. A total of 19 studies were reviewed: 5 examined the effects of sensory integration therapy and 14 sensory-based intervention. The studies defined sensory integration therapies as clinic-based interventions that use sensory-rich, child-directed activities to improve a child's adaptive responses to sensory experiences. Two randomized controlled trials found positive effects for sensory integration therapy on child performance using Goal Attainment Scaling (effect sizes ranging from .72 to 1.62); other studies (Levels III-IV) found positive effects on reducing behaviors linked to sensory problems. Sensory-based interventions are characterized as classroom-based interventions that use single-sensory strategies, for example, weighted vests or therapy balls, to influence a child's state of arousal. Few positive effects were found in sensory-based intervention studies. Studies of sensory-based interventions suggest that they may not be effective; however, they did not follow recommended protocols or target sensory processing problems. Although small randomized controlled trials resulted in positive effects for sensory integration therapies, additional rigorous trials using manualized protocols for sensory integration therapy are needed to evaluate effects for children with autism spectrum disorders and sensory processing problems.

Keywords: sensory integration therapy; sensory processing; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications*
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Occupational Therapy / methods*
  • Sensation Disorders / complications*
  • Sensation Disorders / therapy*
  • Young Adult