Understanding Sensory Integration Therapy for Early Intervention in Autism and importance of Parent Training

Understanding Sensory Integration Therapy for Early Intervention

Dr. Snehal Gadhecha

Neonatal & Paediatric Physiotherapist

Certified Early Intervention in neonatal (pre-terms) & High risk developmental care specialist (UK),

Early Intervention in Sensory Care (London)

Feeding Specialist (PIOMI, SOFFITM, USA)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that affects how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. It is characterized by challenges with self-help skills, social skills, repetitive behaviours, verbal, and nonverbal communication. One common characteristic of autism is sensory processing difficulties, where individuals may be overly sensitive or under-responsive to sensory stimuli. Sensory integration therapy is a widely used approach to help individuals with autism better process and respond to sensory information. Early intervention with sensory integration therapy can play a crucial role in supporting the development and well-being of children with autism.

What is Sensory Integration Therapy?

Sensory integration therapy aims to help individuals with sensory processing difficulties better process and respond to sensory information. The therapy is based on the idea that the brain can adapt and reorganize itself in response to sensory input, a concept known as neuroplasticity. By providing structured sensory experiences, therapists aim to help individuals with autism improve their ability to process and integrate sensory information, leading to more adaptive behaviours and improved quality of life. Research indicates that these sensory challenges affect up to 70-90% of individuals with Autism, showcasing the significant prevalence of this phenomenon (CDC). For autistic individuals, they are neurodiverse i.e. their brain’s ability to interpret and organise sensory information can be different from that of neurotypical individuals. This overlapping occurrence of sensory challenges and Autism often intensifies the individual’s struggles in daily life.

Early Intervention and Its Importance

Early intervention refers to the provision of services and support to children with developmental delays or disabilities as early as possible to promote their development and well-being. Early intervention can start as early as 15-18 months of age. In fact, recent guidelines suggest starting an integrated developmental intervention as soon as ASD is diagnosed or seriously suspected. For children with autism, early intervention is especially critical as it can help address core deficits and improve outcomes in various areas, including communication, social skills, and behaviour. Early intervention with sensory integration therapy can help children with autism develop more effective sensory processing strategies, leading to better engagement with their environment and improved overall functioning.

Principles of Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is based on several key principles:

  1. Child-Centered Approach: Therapy is tailored to the individual needs and preferences of each child, considering their sensory profile and developmental level.
  2. Structured Sensory Experiences: Therapy sessions include a variety of sensory experiences, to help children learn to process and integrate sensory information more effectively.
  3. Gradual Challenge: Therapists gradually introduce more challenging sensory experiences as children progress, helping them develop greater tolerance and flexibility in their sensory responses.
  4. Collaboration with Parents and Caregivers: Parents and caregivers are actively involved in the therapy process, learning strategies to support their child’s sensory needs in everyday life.

Importance of Parent Training

Project ImPACT is recognized as one of the most effective coaching programs for parents of young children with autism and related social communication delays. Project ImPACT teaches parents strategies they can use to help their child develop social, communication, imitation, and play skills during daily routines and activities. Parent training in autism is essential for empowering parents with skills to support their child’s development. It promotes consistency in therapy and generalization of skills to different settings. Training enhances the parent-child relationship, improving communication and understanding. It also reduces parental stress by providing coping strategies and support. Moreover, it helps parents become effective advocates for their child, ensuring they receive necessary services. The skills learned have long-term benefits, promoting independence and improving the quality of life for individuals with autism. Overall, parent training plays a crucial role in the success of early intervention programs, benefiting both the child and the family.

Benefits of Early Intervention Sensory Integration Therapy

Early intervention with sensory integration therapy can offer numerous benefits for children with autism, including:

  1. Improved Sensory Processing: Children learn to better regulate their sensory responses, leading to reduced sensory sensitivities or seeking behaviours.
  2. Enhanced Motor Skills: Activities that target sensory integration also help improve coordination, balance, and fine motor skills.
  3. Better Social Engagement: Improved sensory processing can lead to increased social interactions and better engagement with peers and caregivers.
  4. Reduced Challenging Behaviours: By addressing underlying sensory issues, therapy can help reduce behaviours such as meltdowns or avoidance of certain stimuli.
  5. Enhanced Overall Development: Early intervention can have a positive impact on various areas of development, including communication, cognitive skills, and emotional regulation.

Early intervention sensory integration therapy holds great promise for children with autism, offering a holistic approach to addressing sensory processing difficulties. By providing structured sensory experiences and promoting adaptive responses to sensory stimuli, this therapy can help children with autism develop more effective ways of interacting with their environment. Through collaboration with parents and caregivers, early intervention can lay a strong foundation for continued progress and improved quality of life for children with autism.


  1. Wetherby, A. M., Woods, J., Allen, L., Cleary, J., Dickinson, H., & Lord, C. (2019). Early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder under 3 years of age: Recommendations for practice and research. Pediatrics, 145(Supplement 1), S27-S35.
  2. Rogers, S. J., & Dawson, G. (2010). Early start Denver model for young children with autism: Promoting language, learning, and engagement. New York, NY: Guilford Press
  3. Parham, L. D., & Mailloux, Z. (2010). Sensory integration. In Case-Smith, J., & O’Brien, J.C. (Eds.), Occupational therapy for children (6th ed., pp. 329-365). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier