Sensory-based therapies using brushes, swings, balls and other equipment are increasingly used by occupational therapists to treat children with developmental and behavioral disorders. However, it’s unclear whether children with sensory-based problems have an actual disorder related to the sensory pathways of the brain, or whether these problems are due to an underlying developmental disorder.
In a new policy statement, “Sensory Integration Therapies for Children With Developmental and Behavioral Disorders,” published in the June 2012 Pediatrics (published online May 28), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians not use sensory processing disorder as an independent diagnosis.
When sensory problems are present, health care providers should consider other developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, developmental coordination disorder and anxiety disorder. Occupational therapy with the use of sensory-based therapies may be acceptable as one component of a comprehensive treatment plan.
The AAP recommends pediatricians communicate with families about the limited data on the use of sensory-based therapies, and help families design simple ways to monitor the effects of treatment and discuss whether the therapy is working to achieve their goals for their child. Occupational therapy is a limited resource and families should work with pediatricians to prioritize treatments based on problems that affect a child’s ability to perform daily functions.