Autism - Sensory Integration

Developmental Vision and Sensory Integration OT…A Co-Treatment Approach that Works

Dan L. Fortenbacher, O.D., FCOVD

When it comes to helping children with developmental delays or those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, one professional that has always impressed me for their empathy and advocacy for their patient is the occupational therapist. The year was  1988 when I was first contacted by an occupational therapist who was at the time the Director of Rehabilitation services for an acute care neuro-rehabiltation hospital in Southwest Michigan.  She was interested in adding neuro-optometric rehabilitative services to complement the existing repertoire of rehabilitative care offered by the facility then known as Visitors Hospital. I accepted her invitation and was brought on staff at the hospital where I provided neuro-optometric diagnostic and rehabilitative services. In addition to having the opportunity to serve a completely different patient population compared to private practice, it was at Visitors Hospital  that I had the special privilege to work side by side the occupational therapists which in turn gave me an inside look at one of the most caring and conscientious groups of professionals that I have ever known. In addition to the rehabilitative OT, I began to learn about and appreciate another special category of OT who works with the sensory development of children known as the Sensory Integration Occupational Therapist. (SI OT)

Now it has been over 25 years, and I have had the pleasure of serving along with SI OTs co-treating scores of patients who have had sensory modulation issues as well as developmental delays in their visual system. This professional relationship of co-treatment has many benefits to the patient because of the complementary function that each discipline brings to the improvements in the patient.

First it is important to understand that a child with developmental delays will often be lagging behind in their visual system development as well assensory modulation functions.  For instance, if a child has delays with sensory issues involving vestibular integration they will often have coexisting delays withbinocular, accommodative and oculomotor development.  The fact that they have delays in one sensory system often seriously complicates their progress in treatment in another. Therefore,  delays in the patient visual system will interfere with the treatment provided by the sensory integration OT and the sensory integration delays can interfere with the office-based optometric vision therapy provided by the developmental optometrist.

To gain a better understanding of the role of the sensory integration OT here is an informative video:

An excellent research article entitled, A Randomized Control Pilot Study of the Effectiveness of Occupational Therapy for Children with Sensory Modulation Disorder, shows that SI-OT is effective in treating children with sensory modulation disorders and was published in 2007 in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Other excellent sources of information can be found at the Sensory Processing Disorder website as well as theSensory Processing Disorder Foundation website.

What warms the heart is to see a parents expression of pride as they react to observing their child making steady progress in treatment. It is especially gratifying to witness that child’s expressions of  confidence as they begin to experience success in their personal goals.  These gains can be attributed to a model of care that produces results…SI-OT sensory integration therapy and office-based doctor supervised optometric vision therapy a co-treatment approach that works!