In the 1990’s Claudie Pomares, MSc. MSEd., used the existing research on Environmental Enrichment to develop a program of Sensory Enrichment to help children with special needs.
After 20 years of consistent results, two randomized controlled trials, and an Intent to treat analysis of 1,002 children with autism have now been published validating Sensory Enrichment Therapy™ for autism.
In randomized control trials, children who added Sensory Enrichment therapy to their existing programs were 6X more likely to improve by 5 points or more on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS).
Remarkably, 21% of the children in the Sensory Enrichment group moved up by one whole diagnostic classification on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).
The first randomized controlled trial at UCI
Certified and experienced professionals administered tests of cognitive performance and autism severity to both groups at the initiation of the study and after six months.
All the children continued to receive standard care
In the first randomized controlled trial of this new autism therapy, 28 children with classic autism, aged 3 to 12 years old, were assigned to either a sensory enrichment group or to a control group.
- All the children had autism, so they re-diagnosed them all using the gold-standard ADOS test.
- All the children continued with their existing mix of Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, ABA, etc. and could not start anything new during the trial.
- The children in the control group and the enrichment group were paired by age, autism severity, and the therapies the children were doing.
- The children were then randoly allocated to the enrichment group where they participated into a program designed by Mendability or to the control group. The children in the control group had the option to also participate in an enrichment program after the end of the trial.
- Trained psychometricians used standard measures to evaluate changes in the children before and after the 6-month trial. They used the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), and the Leiter-R as a nonverbal IQ test to assess the participants.
- The trained psychometricians did the same test on both groups before and after the therapy program, but they did not know whether the children they assessed were in the control group or the enrichment group.
This study was published in 2013 and won the D.G. Marquis Award from the American Psychological Association.
Results of the first study
Severity of autism, as assessed with the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, improved significantly in the enriched group compared to controls.
Results showed that after 6 months of therapy 42% of the children in the Sensory Enrichment group achieved clinically significant improvement of 5 points on that scale, compared to only 7% of the children in the standard care group.
Sensory Enrichment also produced a clear improvement in cognition, as determined by their Leiter-R Visualization and Reasoning scores.
At six months, the change in average IQ scores for the children in the enriched group was 11.3 points higher than that of the children in the control group.
The Replication Study at UCI
In a second randomized clinical trial of this autism therapy, the University of California Irvine research team was able to replicate and expand on the results of the first study with twice as many children.
All the children continued to receive standard care
The parents of children with classic autism, aged 3 to 6 years old, gave them either standard care along with daily sensory enrichment therapy, or the children received standard care alone.
The same conditions applied as listed in the summary of the first study, with additional questions and more study participants:
- Additional study participants (n=50).
- All the children were diagnosed again after 6 months using the ADOS.
- They used the Reynell Developmental Language Scales to evaluate both expressive and receptive language.
- Parents completed the Short Sensory Profile at entry to the study and after 6 months.
This study was published in 2015 in “Behavioral Neuroscience.”
Results of the replication study
After six months, the children in the Sensory Enrichment group showed greater gains in their I.Q. scores (+8.4 points), compared to the gains showed by children in standard care alone (+1.5 points) after six months, as assessed by the Leiter-R test.
The children in the Sensory Enrichment group also demonstrated greater reductions in their atypical sensory responses (+11.4 points) compared to the children receiving standard care (+2.9 points), as determined by the Short Sensory Profile.
In addition, children in the Sensory Enrichment group improved their receptive language, as assessed by the Reynell Developmental Language Scales, by 7.42% in six months, compared to children in the standard care group, who improved by 3.63% during that period.
Remarkably, 21% of the children in the Sensory Enrichment group who initially had been classified as having classic autism using the AutismDiagnostic Observation Schedule improved to a level below the autism classification cut-off. None of the children in the control group improved to that extent.
A Study with 1,002 Subjects
- 1,002 subjects were recruited to initiate the treatment.
- Mean age: 7.37 years
- Age ranged between 1 and 18 years
- 796 boys and 206 girls
- 752 lived in the USA
- 239 were international residents, (11 unknown)
Progress rate was similar across all age groups, including older teens
- 590 autism
- 41 Asperger’s
- 31 PDD
- 18 ADHD
- 10 global developmental delay
- 42 other
- 271 no formal diagnosis
This study was published in 2016 in “Neural Plasticity.”