After giving the presentation on Autism, I realized that while I knew a little about sensory integration from working with kids with autism, I did not know exactly how important it was as a symptom of autism. If it is as common a symptom as people believe who are working in with kids with autism why isn’t it included in the DSM as a symptom? Just how common is it for children with autism to have deficits in sensory integration? How important is it in the treatment of autistic symptoms? Also how important is it in the treatment and understanding of symptoms of autism?
While working at an inclusion program for kids with special needs at a summer camp I worked with Olivia, a ten-year old with a seizure disorder and autistic symptoms. While working with her I found that giving bear hugs and rubbing her arms often helped her to calm down after stressful situations. She also was very sensitive to loud noises and sensation on her skin, so being in the outdoors at camp was sometimes difficult (the bugs on her skin were a nightmare!). My boss told me about treatment for kids using sensory diets that tried to regulate the input that these children had, and how it could help them with their daily symptoms. Things like swinging for 20 minutes a day could have such a great impact.
I found a paper that describes just how important sensory integration seems to be for understanding autism. I found one statistic that said that 42-88% of kids with autism also have difficulties with sensory integration. One study also found that all children with autism show deficits in sensory integration even if they are not low enough to be classified as having disordered functioning. Some studies suggest that children with autism show deficits in auditory processing—either hypersensitivity or underresponsivity—which could relate to the communication deficits. In addition some studies suggest that eye contact avoidance could be a self-regulatory method used by children to modulate visual input. It makes sense that if children are overly responsive to visual input they may have difficulties in these areas.
Sensory integration seems to be a key to understanding some aspects of autism and I find it really odd that the DSM does not include this as one of the symptoms. Why could this be?