|The Impossible Child - Page 16|
Does SI treatment actually lay new neural pathways and reorganize sensory processing circuitry? Because we can't map or measure the complexity of neuronal connections, we can only infer neurological changes by observing a child's behavior. There is a great deal of anecdotal, clinical evidence of dramatic improvements in kids' emotional, social and academic functioning following SI treatment. What has caused those changes is unclear. Was it a natural process of maturation that would have occurred with or without occupational therapy? Was it the unconditional positive regard of the therapist? Was it the change in family dynamics once the parents understood the child's problem? Was it the SI treatment?
These are empirical questions and, admittedly, the empirical literature on sensory integration is limited. Occupational therapy is still a "young" discipline without a solid scientific foundation. Findings from studies of SI treatment outcome range from negative, to contradictory to positive; but many of those studies fail to meet the rigorous standards of scientific methodology. Nevertheless, a growing number of OT researchers are focusing on basic questions, such as how to reliably identify and classify children with SI problems, how to define SI treatment and how to select reasonable outcome measures. Until these questions are addressed with well-designed research, we will not have clear guidelines about when to recommend SI treatment and what to expect from it.
The fact that more progress has not been made in the 30 years since Jean Ayres first proposed her ideas about sensory integration is no reason to reject them outright. It wasn't so long ago that the empirical and theoretical underpinnings of psychotherapy were similarly shaky. SI theory could be a diamond in the rough, an unpolished gem with great potential value, a dream come true for many unhappy, unsuccessful children who are not receiving the help they need.
To consult with an occupational therapist who has a solid background in sensory integration, start by contacting local hospitals, pediatric rehabilitation clinics or early childhood intervention programs and asking for a pediatric OT with expertise in SI treatment. To refer a child for an SI evaluation, contact Sensory Integration International at www.sensoryint.com or call (310)320-2335 for a list of SIPT-certified occupational therapists in your geographical area. This organization also offers courses for parents, OTs and other professionals about SI theory and treatment. Another good source of information about SI research, clinical work and treatment resources is the website www.sinetwork.org, which is sponsored by the KID Foundation in Littleton, Colorado.
For more information about occupational therapy in general, refer to the American Occupational Therapy Association's website at www.aota.org .