Description: Sensory-motor therapies are based on the assumption that children with autism spectrum disorders (1) are under- or over-aroused by everyday sights, sounds, and other environmental events (2) have a motor apraxia—difficulty reacting to sensory input despite having the desire and physical ability to do so; or (3) have difficulty understanding where their bodies are in space (deficit in proprioception). One such therapy is known as Patterning, which involves manipulating a child’s head and extremities in patterns intended to simulate prenatal and postnatal movements of non-impaired children. Neurodevelopmental therapy involves manipulating a child’s body to make a variety of movements intended to improve muscle tone.

Examples: Neurodevelopmental Therapy, Patterning. See also the sections on Auditory Integration Therapy, Facilitated Communication, Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), Sensory Integration Therapy, and Vision Therapy.

Research Summary: There are no scientific studies on Patterning or Neurodevelopmental Therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders. Research on sensory-motor therapies for children with other special needs suggests that these therapies are ineffective (Kavale & Forness, 1999). The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that Patterning “is based on an outmoded and oversimplified theory of brain development. . .[I]ts use continues to be unwarranted.” (Committee on Children with Disabilities, 1999, p. 1149).

Recommendations: Researchers may wish to conduct studies with sound scientific designs to evaluate sensory-motor therapies such as Patterning. Professionals should present Patterning and other sensory-motor therapies as untested and encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate it carefully.

Selected References:

Systematic reviews of scientific studies:

Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1999). Efficacy of special education and related services. Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.

Position statements from professional organizations:

Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics (1999). The treatment of neurologically impaired children using patterning, Pediatrics, 1149-1151.

Citation for this article:

Smith, T. (2010). Treatment summary: Sensorimotor therapies. Science in Autism Treatment, 7(3), 24.

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