AUTISM AND SENSORY PROCESSING DIFFICULTIES
Sam is a 14 year old boy with Autism and sensory processing difficulties. Sam lives with his mother and brother and attends a special needs school.
Sam was referred to occupational therapy for assessment and support of his behaviours. Sam would jump and move constantly throughout the day. He struggled to go to sleep as a result of his need to constantly move. He was unable to engage in his school work and also struggled with eating.
Sam engaged in a period of assessment including formal assessments such as the sensory processing inventory. Occupational therapy also carried out a number of informal assessments such as interviews with family, teachers and respite carers, observations of Sam in different settings and carrying out functional tasks. Sam was completely dependent on his care as he was unable to engage in basic functional tasks as a result of his movements.
Assessment identified that Sam had a number of difficulties with his sensory processing. He was under-responsive to proprioceptive input (knowing where his body was in space); he was seeking movement and heavy muscle work among other difficulties.
Treatment for Sam involved working collaboratively with his family, school and respite carers to implement a strict program of sensory activities which provided him with the stimulus he needed in order to function. Sam began by being offered a squeeze vest combine with regular movement breaks at school. He was initially expected to sit for 30 seconds after a period of input. This quickly increased to Sam being able to sit and work for 3 minutes before needing to move. Sam’s support network was taught the sensory techniques including deep pressure touch, movement and heavy muscle work. Sam was to complete at least three sensory activities before trying any activity. The input from Sam’s family and staff was augmented with weekly sessions of sensory integration from a trained therapist. Sam was provided with weighted cutlery for eating with and his family was supported to implement a bed time routine involving the sensory activities.
Sam’s tolerance for sitting and completing activities quickly grew. His need for intensive input reduced over time resulting in him needing less and less intense movement breaks. He began to communicate verbally. He started expressing basic needs such as toilet, food and drink. Sam’s ability to complete short pieces of work also increased. Sam’s general health also improved as a result of his increased eating and drinking.
Occupational therapy supported Sam to increase his ability to complete everyday tasks such as washing and dressing. Sam’s engaging in school tasks and learning increased. His sleep pattern improved and his ability to communicate with others also improved.