Sensorimotor therapy is integral to SLP intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. A recent scoping review at Colorado State University (Lane SJ, et al., Front Psychol. 2022 May 17;13:877527. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.877527) notes that the prevalence of sleep dysfunction is considerably higher in the autistic population than in the non-autistic, and so is the incidence of sensory reactivity differences. Sensory integration and processing may play a role in this. Sleep disorder, of course, is a central concern in speech-language pathology too. Research on the interplay between sleep and sensory integration is actually quite limited. To investigate this further, the Colorado team conducted a search of six databases for work published through June 2021. They identified 397 documents, that reduced to 24 after exclusion criteria were applied. The majority of these studies characterized the relationship between sleep and sensory integration and processing differences in autism. Multiple sleep concerns were identified, such as bedtime resistance, sleep anxiety, delayed sleep onset, night awaking, and short sleep duration in autistic individuals. Identified sensory concerns focused on reactivity, finding hyper- and hypo-reactivity as well as sensory-seeking across sensory domains. Co-existence of sleep concerns and sensory integration and processing differences was frequently reported. Few intervention studies showed a clear sensory focus; those that did emphasized pressure, movement, touch, and individual sensory preferences and needs. Swimming programs and massage showed promising results. No studies were of high quality. At a minimum, there is a co-existence of sensory reactivity differences and sleep concerns in autistic children, and possibly autistic adults. The relationship between poor sleep and sensory integration and processing differences is complex and multi-faceted, requiring additional research. Interventions that intentionally include a central sensory component have not been well studied in autistic children or adults. Overall, studies with greater rigor and intentional use of sensation and sensorimotor supports as a component of intervention are needed.
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