A Comparison of the effects of Sensory-Integration Therapy and Behavioural Intervention on Challenging Behaviour and Academic Performance with Children with Autism
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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder and presents as a complex and often puzzling category of conditions. Parents of children with ASD face a dilemma when selecting the most efficient and effective treatment for their child. Families of children with ASD use a combination of both scientifically validated and non-validated treatments with children with ASD. This thesis evaluates Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT), one of the most popular non-validated treatments for ASD, by reviewing its effectiveness and analysing variables related to parental choice of the intervention. In addition, research is presented that compares the effectiveness of SIT to Behavioural Intervention (BI), an empirically validated treatment, in altering challenging behaviour and improving academic performance. Chapter 2 conducted a systematic review on past research using SIT and Sensory Integration techniques with children with ASD. Chapter 3 surveyed a sample of parents or carers of children with ASD to ascertain their views on SIT and their use of the treatment with their child. Chapters 4 and 5 conducted experimental studies to compare the effects of SIT and BI on challenging behaviour maintained by environmental variables and automatic reinforcement. Finally, Chapter 6 evaluated the effects of SIT and BI on reading, language and attention repertoires. Findings of the current thesis can be summarised as follows. A systematic review failed to demonstrate the effectiveness of SIT for individuals with ASD, across areas of academic achievement, task engagement, language, social interaction or challenging behaviour. However, the survey of parents employing this therapy reported overall positive ratings of their satisfaction with the effectiveness of SIT for their children. The outcomes of experimental studies found that SIT was not effective for behaviours maintained by environmental variables (e.g., escape from demand, access to tangibles and attention). In contrast, the findings suggest that SIT was somewhat effective in reducing behaviours maintained by automatic reinforcement, and the Sensory Integration techniques were more effective when delivered within the framework of a Behavioural Intervention package. In addition, evidence from the current thesis suggests some effectiveness of SIT in increasing attention to task. The results from the current thesis are discussed in terms of theoretical perspectives of the findings as well as implications for future research.