The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Evidence-Based Practice Project has developed a table summarizing the research opportunities on children and adolescents with challenges in sensory processing and sensory integration. The table provides an overview of the state of current available evidence on interventions within the scope of occupational therapy practice and is based on the systematic reviews from the AOTA Evidence-Based Practice Guidelines Series. Researchers, students, and clinicians can use this information in developing innovative research to answer important questions within the occupational therapy field.

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Research opportunities in the area of children and adolescents with challenges in sensory processing and sensory integration. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, 242–244. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682003

Planning a research project requires consideration of many factors. Level of interest and knowledge in a specific area, access to appropriate populations of participants, support of mentors and other researchers, and funding availability all help determine the focus of a future project. An additional component to be considered is whether adequate, up-to-date research has already been completed on a topic; if sufficient evidence is available in a given core area, this area might not be the best choice for another research project.

The best research topic may be one in which either little research has been done or the research to date is insufficient, inconclusive, or mixed. In addition, when research conducted to date provides a low level of evidence and is of limited quality, additional high-quality research in the area is needed.

The “Research Opportunities Table on Children and Adolescents With Challenges in Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration” provides an overview of the state of current available evidence on interventions within the scope of occupational therapy practice. The table is based on the systematic reviews from the AOTA Evidence-Based Practice Guidelines Series. The table lists specific interventions and indicates either that the evidence is sufficient to support the intervention or that moderate, mixed, or few studies support the intervention and therefore it is a priority research area. Please refer to Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Children and Adolescents With Challenges in Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration (Watling, Koenig, Davies, & Schaaf, 2011) and the American Journal of Occupational Therapy Special Issue on Sensory Integration (Schaaf & Davies, 2010) for more information on the topic area and the systematic review process.

This table also is posted online for researchers to use to inform the occupational therapy community about their work. The table is linked to Google Drive and offers a place for researchers to include information on recently completed and ongoing research. It is hoped that this information will make the research planning process easier, minimize duplication of research efforts, and stimulate discussions among researchers with similar interests, which can then facilitate the creation of research networks and multisite studies. Researchers, students, and clinicians can use this information in developing innovative research to answer important questions within the occupational therapy field. To add current or ongoing research to the table, visit www.aota.org/researchopportunitiestables.

Researchers are also encouraged to enter their projects into AOTA’s Researcher Database at http://myaota.aota.org/research/. This database provides AOTA with information such as relevant clinical settings and populations, International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health level (World Health Organization, 2001), funder (if any), and key words to help guide research advocacy and policy initiatives.

Research Opportunities Table on Children and Adolescents With Challenges in Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration

Theme Specific Intervention Strength of Evidence 
Areas of Occupation 
Functional goals Occupational therapy using an SI approach for performance on individual functional goals for children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
Combination of SI, sensory diet, and therapeutic riding to address performance on functional, parent-centered goals in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI for participation in active play for children with sensory processing disorder Priority research area 
SI to address play skills and engagement in children with autism Priority research area 
Exercise to improve play behavior in children with autism Priority research area 
Cognitive and task-based approach to address participation in occupations for children with motor deficits characteristic of DCD Priority research area 
Movement therapy for on-task passive behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
SI for academic and psychoeducational performance (e.g., math, reading, written language) Priority research area 
Performance Skills 
Motor and praxis skills SI for gross motor and motor planning skills in children with learning disabilities Priority research area 
Cognitive and task-based approach to improve motor skills in children with motor deficits characteristic of DCD Priority research area 
Mental imagery to address performance on motor skills in children with attention and learning problems Priority research area 
Motor imagery programs for performance on motor skills in children with problems in motor coordination Priority research area 
Sensorimotor techniques to address motor performance and reduce falls in children with DCD Priority research area 
Perceptual–motor training for motor performance in children with learning problems Priority research area 
Sensory–perceptual skills Occupational therapy using an SI approach to address sensory processing skills in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI approach to improve visual perception in children with DCD Priority research area 
Combined sensory diet plus Therapeutic Listening program to address areas of sensory processing for children with sensory processing disorders and visual–motor delays Priority research area 
Combined SI plus perceptual–motor curriculum for visual, auditory, and tactile perception in children with suspected neurological problems Priority research area 
Sensorimotor activities to improve sensory organization in children with DCD Priority research area 
Emotional regulation skills SI to address maladaptive behaviors in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI to address self-esteem in children with learning disabilities and sensory integrative dysfunction Priority research area 
Occupational therapy using an SI approach to decrease externalizing and internalizing behaviors in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
Combination sensory diet plus Therapeutic Listening program to improve behavior in children with sensory processing disorders and visual–motor delays Priority research area 
Communication and social skills Occupational therapy using an SI approach to address socialization in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI approach to promote engagement and reduce aggression in children with sensory modulation disorder Priority research area 
SI approach to improve social interaction and reduce disruptive behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
Massage to improve social communication in children with autism Priority research area 
 Sound therapy to improve language skills in children with autism Priority research area 
Client Factors 
Mental functions SI to improve attention in children with autism Priority research area 
Weighted vests to address attention in children with pervasive developmental disorder and sensory processing disorder Priority research area 
Sensory function and pain Occupational therapy using an SI approach to reduce the amplitude of electrodermal responses in children with problems in sensory modulation indicating a decreased stress response to repetitive and potentially noxious sensory stimuli Priority research area 
Touch pressure or deep pressure and massage to address touch aversion and improve responsiveness to sound in children with autism Priority research area 
SI to address tactile discrimination in children with suspected neurological problems Priority research area 
Physical exercise to reduce self-stimulatory behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
Movement therapy to decrease negative responses to touch in children with autism Priority research area 
Consultation 
 Occupational therapy provided on a consultation basis for children with SI dysfunction, DCD, and learning problems Research sufficient 
Theme Specific Intervention Strength of Evidence 
Areas of Occupation 
Functional goals Occupational therapy using an SI approach for performance on individual functional goals for children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
Combination of SI, sensory diet, and therapeutic riding to address performance on functional, parent-centered goals in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI for participation in active play for children with sensory processing disorder Priority research area 
SI to address play skills and engagement in children with autism Priority research area 
Exercise to improve play behavior in children with autism Priority research area 
Cognitive and task-based approach to address participation in occupations for children with motor deficits characteristic of DCD Priority research area 
Movement therapy for on-task passive behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
SI for academic and psychoeducational performance (e.g., math, reading, written language) Priority research area 
Performance Skills 
Motor and praxis skills SI for gross motor and motor planning skills in children with learning disabilities Priority research area 
Cognitive and task-based approach to improve motor skills in children with motor deficits characteristic of DCD Priority research area 
Mental imagery to address performance on motor skills in children with attention and learning problems Priority research area 
Motor imagery programs for performance on motor skills in children with problems in motor coordination Priority research area 
Sensorimotor techniques to address motor performance and reduce falls in children with DCD Priority research area 
Perceptual–motor training for motor performance in children with learning problems Priority research area 
Sensory–perceptual skills Occupational therapy using an SI approach to address sensory processing skills in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI approach to improve visual perception in children with DCD Priority research area 
Combined sensory diet plus Therapeutic Listening program to address areas of sensory processing for children with sensory processing disorders and visual–motor delays Priority research area 
Combined SI plus perceptual–motor curriculum for visual, auditory, and tactile perception in children with suspected neurological problems Priority research area 
Sensorimotor activities to improve sensory organization in children with DCD Priority research area 
Emotional regulation skills SI to address maladaptive behaviors in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI to address self-esteem in children with learning disabilities and sensory integrative dysfunction Priority research area 
Occupational therapy using an SI approach to decrease externalizing and internalizing behaviors in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
Combination sensory diet plus Therapeutic Listening program to improve behavior in children with sensory processing disorders and visual–motor delays Priority research area 
Communication and social skills Occupational therapy using an SI approach to address socialization in children with problems in sensory processing Priority research area 
SI approach to promote engagement and reduce aggression in children with sensory modulation disorder Priority research area 
SI approach to improve social interaction and reduce disruptive behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
Massage to improve social communication in children with autism Priority research area 
 Sound therapy to improve language skills in children with autism Priority research area 
Client Factors 
Mental functions SI to improve attention in children with autism Priority research area 
Weighted vests to address attention in children with pervasive developmental disorder and sensory processing disorder Priority research area 
Sensory function and pain Occupational therapy using an SI approach to reduce the amplitude of electrodermal responses in children with problems in sensory modulation indicating a decreased stress response to repetitive and potentially noxious sensory stimuli Priority research area 
Touch pressure or deep pressure and massage to address touch aversion and improve responsiveness to sound in children with autism Priority research area 
SI to address tactile discrimination in children with suspected neurological problems Priority research area 
Physical exercise to reduce self-stimulatory behaviors in children with autism Priority research area 
Movement therapy to decrease negative responses to touch in children with autism Priority research area 
Consultation 
 Occupational therapy provided on a consultation basis for children with SI dysfunction, DCD, and learning problems Research sufficient 

Note. DCD = developmental coordination disorder; SI = sensory integration.

AOTA acknowledges the work of Matthew Bernardo (emerging leader mentee) and Melissa Stutzbach (fieldwork student), who participated in the development of the Research Opportunities tables while at AOTA in Bethesda, MD. This work is based on the American Journal of Occupational Therapy Special Issue on Sensory Integration (Schaaf & Davies, 2010) and the Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Children and Adolescents With Challenges in Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration (Watling et al., 2011), all from the AOTA Evidence-Based Practice Project.

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