Sensory Therapy and the Vestibular System

>> Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bernard Rimland and Edward Ornitz observed and described sensory problems in autism in the 1960's. In the 1970's, Carl Delacato was the first to propose that sensory issues among those with autism was in fact treatable.

Occupational therapists (OTs) are the ones most likely to treat sensory problems in autism. Other professionals have designed sensory-based approaches. Developmental optometrists (OD) and OTs "adopted a whole person, integrated, functional approach to treatment long before it was vaguely fashionable." Both profession recognize the importance vision and movement in development. An optometrist would stress the role of vision as primary and movement skill as foundational. Occupational therapists focuses on movement and balance, viewing vision as one of the most important sensory systems.

Thee are seven sensory systems" tacticle, propriocetive, vestibular, visual, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory. It is necessary to review them and how they work to understand the nature of sensory issues in autism spectrum disorders. When an individual has a sensory experience, receptors or specialized cells throughout the body deliver messages tot he central nervous system. As these messages travel along neural pathways, different parts of the brain compare, combine and interpret the sensory experiences, storing them for future reference.

Efficient foundational sensory skills are not only essential for subtaining attention, understanding and using language as well as social interaction, but for all aspects of vision. Tactile processing is important in connecting to others emotionally, and in participating in social situations. Sitting at circle time, standing in line, and negotiating moving bodies on the playground can involve human contact that is intermittent and unpredictable. For the child with autism who experiences tactile sensitivities, and who has difficulty reading cues that tell him what to expect next, these situations are likely to create anxiety and discomfort.

The vestibular system is of particular interest because of the close neural relationship between it and the visual system. Some of the visual disturbances in those with ASD relate to the interactions between these two systems: tactile and vestibular. The vestibular system is known as the "balance system." It is located in the inner ear, where it receives signals from the labyrinths, which regulate eye position when the head moves. Many children with ASD appear to have under-developed vestibular systems. A baby's vestibular system is one of the first systems to myelinate in uetro. the mother's movements stimulate vestibular development in the fetus. Confining a mother with a high risk pregnancy to bed-rest during the third trimester of pregnancy could result in a baby being born with an under-developed vestibular system. Futhermore, repeated ear infections can also disturb its functions. Physiologically the vestibular system is connected to the digestive tract, language center of the brain, the limbic system, and to the muscles of the eyes.

Each of the sensory systems has two functions: discrimination and protection. discrimination provides information about detains, texture, temperature, shape and size. Accurate discrimination allows a person to use objects appropriately. The protective function keeps people from danger.

According to SIGN the most common patters of sensory integration dysfunction include: visual perception deficits; visual motor deficits; visual construction and praxis deficits (visuodyspraxia); tactile discrimination deficits; vestibular processing deficits; proprioceptive processing deficits and poor body scheme: bilateral integration and sequencing deficits include poor postural control (bilateral integration and sequencing); somoatosensory-based dyspraxia (somatodyspraxia), language based dyspraxia (dyspraxia on verbal command), sensory sensitivities especially tactile defensiveness and gravitational insecurity.

Envisioning A Bright Future
2008 By Patricia Lemer
OEP Foundation Inc.

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1 special comments:

Andrew Brereton March 16, 2009 at 8:15 AM  

Interesting post Amanda. I work with children who display many such distortions of sensory processing.