So You’re Thinking About Sensory Integration and Movement Therapy?

By Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D.

Controversial LD Therapies | Sensory and Movement Therapy
We know that that some individuals with learning disabilities (LD) and AD/HD have difficulties with fine and gross motor skills, and that targeted intervention and practice in such areas as handwriting, manipulating scissors and even running, jumping and bouncing a ball can result in improvement over time. There are not, however, good data to suggest that remediating these types of weakness will result in overall improvement with regard to learning and attention, and studies have yet to demonstrate a treatment that offers relief to those with LD or AD/HD.Sensory Integration TrainingSensory integration therapy is an approach based on the belief that some individuals experience sensory overload (the brain receives too many messages at one time) and is therefore unable to respond in ways that allow for healthy interactions with others and with the environment. The theory behind this treatment approach is that by providing structured and repeated opportunities to experience and react to sensory messages, the brain can adapt and allow the individual to be attentive and responsive to learning, attentional and behavioral demands.

While there is some solid clinical evidence to suggest that some individuals with AD/HD exhibit tactile hyper-sensitivity (such as extreme discomfort with certain clothing fabrics or an aversion to certain food textures), there are no data to document the benefit of sensory integration therapy to address these difficulties in people with AD/HD.

Cerebellar TrainingMore popular in the United Kingdom than here in the United States, these types of training programs are based on the assumption that LD and AD/HD are difficulties that stem from one particular part of the central nervous system and that engaging in certain types of sensory and motor activities can fix these problems.

Proponents of these approaches report that by engaging in physical exercises that involve balance and movement, neural pathways to and from the cerebellum (a structure deep in the brain) are enhanced, thereby speeding up the flow of information that in turn improves attention and learning. Exercises are said to treat a condition called “developmental cerebellar delay” with the assumption that improvements in motor coordination result in more fluid and automatic learning. There are no data to demonstrate the benefit of these approaches for individuals with LD and AD/HD, nor do these approaches reflect our current understanding of the nature of these disorders.

The bottom line on sensory integration and movement therapies:

  • Enjoy your time on those balance beams and trampolines but don’t expect to see any improvement in learning or attention.