Sensory Integration Therapy: Everything You Need to Know


Your pediatrician or your child’s teacher may have suggested that sensory integration therapy could be highly beneficial for your child. If you’re already researching the best treatments for your child, you’ve likely noticed that many experts recommend it. But what is it, exactly?      

This article will provide an in-depth look at sensory integration therapy, exploring its advantages for children. We will highlight some of the most well-known sensory integration therapies currently available. Additionally, we’ll introduce you to Soundsory®, an innovative, home-based auditory program that complements these therapies, allowing your child to engage their senses from the comfort of your home.  

Key Take-Away Messages

What is Sensory Integration Therapy?
Sensory integration therapy (SIT) is a one-on-one intervention program trained occupational therapists provide to children with problems with sensory integration(SI). This program is individually tailored to improve the SI problems that interfere with a child’s participation in everyday activities at home, play, school, and community.    
Some of the benefits include [1]:  
– better performance and engagement in activities at home, school, and community
– reduced inappropriate behaviors, such as self-harming behaviors
– better learning, such as improved reading skills and language development  
Try Soundsory®, a unique blend of music and movement therapy for Sensory Integration, to enhance your child’s neurodevelopment.

What is Sensory Integration?

Jean Ayres, the occupational therapist and psychologist who developed sensory integration (SI), defined it as the “organization of sensation for use” [2]. In simple terms, it’s how a child selects, organizes, and reacts to (or ignores) sensory information from the environment to accomplish goals and respond appropriately to the demands of everyday life.

Sensory integration can also refer to a theory that guides occupational therapists when assessing and treating children with difficulties with sensory processing. This can include children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder (SPD), or auditory processing disorder (APD).

What is the difference between sensory integration and sensory processing?

Recently, researchers and clinicians have shifted from using the term sensory integration to sensory processing [3]. However, both these terms refer to how the brain receives and makes sense of sensory signals and responds to them appropriately. These terms are now used interchangeably, but clinicians may prefer a particular term based on their training.

Dr. A Jean Ayres coined the former in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the term “sensory processing disorder” was first used in Dr. Lucy Miller’s sensory processing model, drawing heavily on Ayres’ SI theory.  

What do sensory integration and sensory processing difficulties look like?

“Sensory integration difficulties” or “sensory processing difficulties” refer to a spectrum of challenges rather than a single condition [4]. Children with these difficulties may face stress, as processes that are automatic and accurate for others may not be as effortless and precise for them.

When there is a problem in sensory integration, a child may “find it challenging to regulate their responses to everyday situations” [1] and experience stress and frustration. They may demonstrate challenging or maladaptive behaviors [5], avoid or reject certain activities, throw tantrums, disobey, or become aggressive.

Sensory processing difficulties can generally be divided into three categories [6]:

  • Sensory modulation problems: a child finds it challenging to respond to a sensory input with a behavior appropriate relative to the grade, degree, or nature of the sensory input. For example, they may react negatively to the sound of an airplane up in the sky or find their clothes too rough.
  • Sensory registration problems: a child has difficulty perceiving differences and similarities between stimuli. For instance, a child may confuse the letter b with d.
  • Sensory-based motor disorder: a child may struggle with motor planning difficulties, poor postural stability, muscle tone, and balance. These children may appear clumsy, awkward, and poorly coordinated.  

Sensory Processing Difficulties in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

Sensory hyper- and hypo-responsiveness is a very common challenge among children with ASD [7]. Children who can’t express themselves often resort to self-injurious or aggressive behaviors. 

Many children also have sensory registration problems, appearing oblivious to sounds, touch, pain, taste, and movement (CM). Meanwhile, the same child who does not register particular sensory input may be overfocused on irrelevant stimuli, such as the placement of toys. 

Sensory Processing Difficulties in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Hyperactivity and impulsivity in children with ADHD may be symptoms of sensory-seeking behaviors, where they crave a particular sensory input [6], prompting them to run, climb, or crash toward things or other people. Meanwhile, another study [8] found a relationship between sensory over-responsiveness and ADHD . This means that children with ADHD tend to have an intense, exaggerated, or prolonged response to sensory stimuli . 

Sensory Processing Difficulties in Children with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

Children with auditory processing disorder have problems discriminating sounds, such as listening to people speaking in places with high background noise. They may also become easily distracted by sudden or loud sounds or follow long instructions when given verbally.

How common are sensory integration problems?

It is difficult to figure out the prevalence of SI problems because they tend to co-occur with other conditions. However, it is estimated that around 5 to 16.5% [9] of the general population have some form of sensory processing difficulty. However, the numbers are higher for those with clinical conditions like ASD and ADHD. In fact, around 90 to 95% of children with autism have sensory processing difficulties [10]. Meanwhile, up to 40% of children with ADHD also have SPD [11]. 

What is Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)?

Sensory integration therapy (SIT), an intervention approach now trademarked as Ayres Sensory Integration (ASI), is an intervention mainly led and performed by trained occupational therapists to help children with developmental and behavioral disorders improve their ability to process, organize, and integrate sensory input and respond appropriately to everyday stimuli. 

How does Sensory Integration Therapy work?

Sensory integration therapy is incorporated to play. OTs provide children with sensory-motor activities that provide them with just the right challenge (not overwhelming but challenging enough) to help them “successfully meet the challenges presented by their environment” [4]. 

The activities done during sensory integration therapy provide auditory, vestibular, tactile, and vestibular input, which are believed to organize the sensory system. The activities aim to target particular areas or sensory systems that interfere with the child’s ability to participate in day-to-day life [1]. An OT can target several sensory systems at a time.

These can include:

  • using equipment like balance beams, trampolines, and swings
  • using devices like sensory brushes and weighted vests
  • using activities like playing with shaving cream 
  • oral motor exercises

Who may benefit from Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)?

Sensory integration therapy can benefit children with behavioral, developmental, and learning issues caused by underlying sensory processing difficulties. These include children with ASD, ADHD, and APD. Here’s a summary of research evidence of SIT for these populations:

PopulationChildren with ASDChildren with ADHDChildren with APD 
Research evidenceA 2015 study [12] aimed to determine the effectiveness of sensory integration programs in children with autism. A 2013 study [13] checked the effectiveness of SIR in children with ASD (18 treatments of 45 min, for 6 weeks) A 2023 study [14] investigated the effectiveness of SIT in enhancing balance and executive functions in children with ASD A 2017 study [15] aimed to examine the effectiveness of combination therapy based on executive function and sensory integration child-centered on ADHD A 2023 study [16] aimed to see the effects of sensory integrative intervention on the motor, cognitive, and social skills of children with ADHD. A 2022 study [17] wanted to evaluate the effect of a family-centered sensory diet program on impulsivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).A 2018 study [18] investigated the effect of a sound-based intervention while performing physically active movements in a child with APD.
Potential Benefits–  help kids become more independent and participate in daily activities [12]-  improved ability to process sensory stimuli as evidenced by a reduction in mannerisms/stereotypic behaviors [12] [13]-  progress towards individualized goals [13][14]-  improved balance and executive functions (cognitive flexibility, working memory, inhibitory control, attentional control)–  combining executive function and SI therapies reduced attention deficit and hyperactivity [15]- Reduced functional impairments (better attention to family members, fewer quarrels with siblings, more responsive to completing homework, improved performance of daily activities [16]- Implementing a sensory diet reduced impulsivity among children with ADHD. [17]–  A 12-week sound-based program reduced auditory sensitivity in a child with APD [18

Who provides Sensory Integration Therapy?

Only specially trained occupational therapists can provide sensory integration therapy. OTs use interviews, observations, and standardized tools to evaluate a child’s sensory integration and develop an individualized program tailored to improve specific SI problems that interfere with the child’s performance.

Is Sensory Integration Therapy evidence based?

A 2010 systematic review that used the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Standards for Evidence‐based Practices in Special Education to evaluate ASI intervention research from 2006 to 2017 found that SIT is an evidence-based practice [19]. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that the effectiveness of SIT in children with autism is inconclusive and limited, ASI has already been “included as an evidence-based intervention for children with ASD in the National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice” [20].

What are examples of Sensory Integration Therapies to choose from?

There are a myriad of sensory-based programs that use sensory integration principles to help children with a range of conditions, including those with ASD, ADHD, learning disorders, and sensory processing disorders.     

These programs train the brain and improve skills like memory, attention, speech, emotional regulation, cognition, motor planning, and sequencing. These are:  

The table below summarizes what the program aims to do, who it is for, how it is done, and other relevant information

Type of sensory integration therapyMasgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration program
Brain Balance programInteractive metronome®
Purpose Aims to facilitate proper maturation or integration of primary reflex motor patterns to improve daily functioningAims to build and strengthen brain connections and pathways to boost brain function, including attention, mood, memory, and problem-solving.Aims to improve motor and sensory skills and cognitive skills like attention, focus, and executive functioning.
MethodUses a combination of hands-on manual techniques and sensory stimulation by the therapist, and active movements by the childUses a combination of sensory, motor, and cognitive exercises, coaching, and personalized nutrition to help build stronger brain connectionsInvolves doing whole-body exercises that follow metronome beats.
Targeted PopulationAll conditions and ages, particularly those with neurological and developmental disordersKids and adults of all ages, including those with ADHD, ASD,  dyslexia, SPD, anxietyPeople of all ages, including those who want to improve specific skills, and pediatric and adult patients, including ASD, ADHD, SPD, learning disabilities, stroke, spinal cord injury, etc.
Research evidenceLimited studies; A 2020 study [21] found the MNRI improved emotional regulation, decreased hypervigilance, and enhanced stress resilience in individuals with various conditions.Limited studies; A 2023 study [22] found that Brain Balance significantly improved reading/writing, emotionality, behavior, academic engagement, and social participation in BB participants.Limited studies; A 2022 review and meta-analysis [23] found that interactive metronome training improved motor function across healthy individuals, athletes, and patients with neurological function
Cost$200-$500 per session$29-$49 for an online assessment, and $199-$299 for a full assessment, depending based on locationCost per session varies on the provider, but equipment costs around $6,000 for professionals
AccessibilityLimited availability due to few number of trained professionalsCan be done at home or in a Brain Balance center across the USACan be done in different settings but requires a trained professional; requires adherence to the program
Duration60 minutes per session>1 hr per day, 5 days a week, with a program that lasts 3 months minimum12 or 15 one-hour sessions
Pros & ConsPros
✅ personalized
✅ comprehensive approach
✅ suitable for different stages and ages 

❌ requires training and deep understanding
❌ limited availability in certain areas
❌ time-intensive
✅ individualized holistic approach
✅ can be done online or in person 

❌ Requires a three-month commitment to frequent sessions
❌ limited availability
❌ can be costly
✅ playful, game-based interface

❌ Requires a set of equipment
❌ expensive
❌ not user-friendly
Type of sensory integration therapyBrain Gym® programPlay Attention ProgramForbrain®
Purpose Aims to improve brain function to help individuals reach their peak performanceAims to boost attention, executive function, emotional regulation, impulse control, behavior, etc.Aims to improve auditory processing, enhance speech, memory, and attention
MethodInvolves performing 26 physical movements and related techniquesUses a computer-based training softwareUses a patented Auditory feedback system with bone-conduction headphone
Targeted PopulationChildren and adults of all ages; suitable for children with learning disabilities and adults who want to improve their skills  Children with ADHDIndividuals of all ages, such as students, children with speech and language difficulties or ADHD, and singers
Research evidenceLimited studies; Several studies published found no significant results from Brain GymLimited studies; according to a 2014 randomized control trial [24] linked from the Play Attention site, children with ADHD who received neurofeedback showed improvements in ADHD symptomsSmall-scale studies published; A 2023 study [25] found that using bone-conduction earphones like Forbrain can reduce vocal fatigue; meanwhile, another study [26] found that sound therapy improved reading skills among children with reading difficulties.
CostCost for sessions, classes, or workshops vary on the instructor/ consultantsBasic package is $995; professional package is $2,495$299
AccessibilityCan be done as a session, class, or workshopAnywhere where you can use your computer with the software Small, lightweight design makes it highly portable; can be bought on Forbrain site
DurationTypically short; integrated into movement breaks and routines10 minutes dailyRecommended to be incorporated into one’s daily routine, but a typical program includes 20 minutes daily for 6 weeks
Pros & ConsPros
✅ fun, playful exercises
✅ suitable for individuals of all ages 

❌ limited research to back up effectiveness
❌ no auditory stimulation 
❌ requires consistency
✅ gives real-time feedback
✅ interactive game-based
✅ specifically designed to address attention-related challenges

❌ costly limited
❌ scientific evidence
❌ not a standalone solution 
✅ cost-effective
✅ can be used at home by end user
✅ suitable for all age groups

❌ limited focus on speech, attention, and memory
❌ consistent use is necessary 

Other Methods 

Soundsory® is a structured program that integrates music therapy and movement exercises. It is based on the principles of the Tomatis® Method. It employs user-friendly, cost-effective equipment featuring a dynamic filter and bone conduction technology to stimulate both the auditory and vestibular systems.

The program includes rhythmic sounds and specially composed music tracks enhanced neuro-acoustically to target the auditory and vestibular systems. In addition to these auditory elements, Soundsory incorporates movement exercises to engage the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems.

The primary objective of Soundsory® is to achieve sensory integration, which is essential for developing a strong foundation in cognitive and sensorimotor processing. This integration is vital for enhancing coordination, balance, motor skills, and cognitive abilities.  Soundsory® involves a 40-day regimen, where participants engage in daily 30-minute music listening sessions combined with movement exercises. The program is structured into two segments, each lasting 20 days.  


Sensory integration plays a vital role in a child’s ability to engage with their environment and develop various skills. Sensory integration therapy is a specialized intervention designed to address sensory processing challenges that may prevent children from participating effectively in everyday activities.    

Many children with developmental disorders like ASD and ADHD also have sensory processing difficulties, making sensory integration therapy an ideal intervention for them. Despite its widespread use, conclusive large-scale evidence of its effectiveness is limited.

Various multisensory and brain development programs with similar targets and clientele as sensory integration therapy exist. These programs often focus on stimulating one or more sensory systems to achieve a range of goals, like focus, attention, memory, and coordination. While they may complement sensory integration therapy, consulting an occupational therapist for tailored advice is recommended.  


Can Sensory Integration Therapy help autistic children?
Many autistic children also have sensory processing disorder (SPD). Sensory integration therapy can significantly help improve the sensory processing difficulties that prevent them from developing more appropriate responses to their daily challenges. Sensory integration therapy can improve their emotional regulation, reduce their stereotypic behaviors, and enhance participation in their daily activities.
What do they do in Sensory Integration Therapy?
The activities done during sensory integration therapy depend on what sensory integration problems the child has. Generally, this involves sensory-motor activities that provide a range of vestibular, tactile, proprioceptive, and auditory stimuli to regulate their sensory systems.
Does Sensory Integration Therapy really work?
Sensory integration therapy is a widely used intervention for a variety of conditions that show sensory processing difficulties. Many anecdotal reports from clinicians and parents testify to its effectiveness.  However, according to a 2020 study [3], this intervention only has an emerging but limited evidence base. This is mainly due to a lack of large-scale intervention studies. It is important to note, however, that having limited evidence means that an intervention is ineffective; it only suggests that studies need to follow recommended protocols or perform more rigorous trials to evaluate the effectiveness of SIT.
What are the 3 types of sensory processing disorders?
According to Miller and colleagues, sensory processing disorder can generally be classified into three: sensory modulation disorder (SMD), which includes sensory over-responsivity (SOR), sensory under-responsivity (SUR), and sensory seeking/craving (SS), sensory discrimination disorder (SDD), and sensory-based motor disorder (SBMD), which include dyspraxia and postural disorders.
Is ADHD a sensory disorder?
ADHD and sensory processing disorder are two different disorders, but the latter isn’t listed in the DSM-5 or ICD-10 as a formal diagnosis. The two conditions can have overlapping symptoms but are different from each other. At the same time, many kids with ADHD also have sensory processing difficulties.
What is sensory integration therapy approach for autism?
There is no single sensory integration therapy approach for autistic children. On the other hand, occupational therapists design an individualized sensory integration program for autistic children based on their problems, needs, abilities, and interests.
How can I use sensory integration therapy at home?
Looking for a holistic approach to boost your child’s development? Try Soundsory®, a breakthrough 40-day program that blends music with movement for the brain and body. This multi-sensory program is fully home-based and uses novel technology to address sensory issues: Discover Soundsory


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Rachel Ann Melegrito

I’m a licensed occupational therapist turned content writer with over a decade of clinical experience as a pediatric OT. I also used to teach basic sciences and OT courses in a university before I shifted to content writing.