Sensory Enrichment Therapy is a scientifically driven treatment that uses sensory experiences to enable the brain to reduce the symptoms of autism.
As our brains process sensory inputs, they are able to:
Increase the capacity of the connections to handle incoming signals.
We all perceive things in our own ways, depending on how our brain is wired.
The way we see, feel and hear the world affects the way we behave.
Animal studies have shown for a very long time that an enriched environment that provides more sensory and motor experiences leads to improvements in brain development.
In 1947 Donald Hebb found that rats raised as pets performed better on problem solving tests than rats raised in cages (1).
In the 1960s Mark Rosenzweig showed the measurable differences between the brains of rats raised in small cages, and the brains of rats that had access to all sorts of toys and could play with other rats.
Rosenzweig established that environmental enrichment increased the size and weight of their brains. The brains of the enriched rats had more brain cells, more connections, and a stronger auxiliary system to support this enhanced brain activity (2).
Researchers also tested the hypothesis that reducing the amount of sensory enrichment would increase the expression of autistic symptoms.
Unfortunately, events in Romania provided a sample population to study. Impoverished Romanians sent large numbers of children to orphanages, where they had little environmental stimulation.
Consequently, one third of these orphans developed what has been called post-institutional autistic syndrome (1). These children exhibited stereotypic behaviors, an inability to identify human emotions, as well as disordered communication, language, cognition and attachment.
Conversely, when these orphans were moved to an enriched environment provided by foster parents, their intelligence test scores, language development, social engagement and mental health improved (2).
This naturally calls for the development of an autism therapy based on enriching the sensory experiences of autistic individuals.
In the 1990s Claudie Pomares, MSEd used the existing research on environmental enrichment to develop a program of sensory enrichment to help children.
After 20 years of consistent results in numerous case studies, two randomized controlled studies have now been published validating sensory enrichment therapy as a basis for a new treatment model for children with autism (Woo et al. 2013; Woo et al., 2015).
Further studies are currently underway extending our understanding of the effectiveness of this approach as an autism therapy, as well as exploring the benefits of sensory enrichment therapy for ADHD and other neurological disorders.