Date Presented 04/02/2022

The present scoping review aims to determine how the OT literature conceptualizes and defines sensory modulation behaviors in the evaluation and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The review identified overall inconsistencies in the systematic use of sensory models to direct assessment and terminology in OT practice. The results indicate the need for cohesion in sensory terminology use and application to OT treatment.

Primary Author and Speaker: Tanner Petty

Additional Authors and Speakers: Anna Bland, Andrea Brown

Contributing Authors: Amanda Carpenter

PURPOSE: While the field of occupational therapy (OT) has sought to describe sensory behaviors through well-known, sensory-driven models, the language used within theoretical models is varied (Ben-Sasson et al., 2019). Researchers have recently begun to address the need for universal sensory language from diagnosis to treatment (Blanche et al., 2019). Inconsistencies in the language used to measure sensory processing have presented challenges in interpreting the results of sensory-related research and have caused disagreement across sensory-based OT interventions (Ismael et al., 2018; Schaaf & Lane, 2015). The purpose of the review was to examine the consistency of OT research in using sensory models, assessments, and terminology to guide ASD evaluation and treatment in children.

DESIGN: The researchers conducted a scoping review to assess the consistency of sensory-based terminology across OT practitioners within qualitative and quantitative literature. The scoping review included peer-reviewed journal articles published in English between 2000 and 2019 that reported sensory-based OT assessment and research on children with ASD under 19 years of age. The researchers excluded articles that offered data on diagnoses comorbid with ASD or that did not offer primary sensory-based data.

METHOD: The scoping review occurred in five stages: (1) literature search in research databases using determined syntax, (2) analysis of article titles to examine relevance to the research question, (3) analysis of article abstracts and full-texts based on inclusion criteria, (4) data extraction from included articles, and (5) summary of results within each sensory model. In order to examine the uniformity of sensory-based language within occupational therapy practice, the researchers analyzed data qualitatively using content analysis.

RESULTS: The initial search yielded 117 articles. Following analysis of inclusion/exclusion criteria, the researchers identified 13 articles appropriate for analysis. Four articles showed consistency across model, assessment, and terminology in the review. Of the four articles, two consistently used one sensory model and two used a mixed-methods approach. The remaining nine articles yielded inconsistencies between theory, assessment, and terminology use in OT practice.

CONCLUSION: Little consistency exists in the systematic use of a sensory model to direct OT assessment and terminology. The review reflects the need for OT practitioners to use a theoretical foundation for consistent sensory modulation terminology to evaluate and treat children with ASD. The study will impact practitioners’ understanding of the importance of using a sensory framework to guide evaluation and treatment in order to more accurately measure the effects of sensory intervention and more clearly demonstrate OT’s distinct value in sensory-based treatment.


Ben-Sasson, A., Gal, E., Fluss, R., Katz-Zetler, N., & Cermak, S. A. (2019). Update of a meta-analysis of sensory symptoms in ASD: A new decade of research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(12), 4974–4996.

Blanche, E. I., Bodison, S. C., Duker, L. I. S., & Cermak, S. A. (2019, May). An examination of sensory-related terminology across disciplines: Part two. OT Practice: SIS Quarterly Practice Connections, 4(3), 5–7.

Ismael, N., Lawson, L. M., & Hartwell, J. (2018). Relationship between sensory processing and participation in daily occupations for children with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of studies that used Dunn’s sensory processing framework. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72(3), 7203205030.

Schaaf, R. C., & Lane, A. E. (2015). Toward a best-practice protocol for assessment of sensory features in ASD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45, 1380–1395.