OAARSN Book Review

Building Bridges through Sensory Integration, by Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton and Paula Aquilla, 1998. ISBN: 0-968-5375-0-2. Available for $50 from 132 Queen’s Drive, Weston, ON, M9N 2H6; phone (416) 785-7899.

As reviewed in AAIWW Winter 1999-2000

This book is based on understanding autism as a neurological disorder that includes problems of perceptual and sensory processing and impaired motor skills. The authors are occupational therapists who work with children who have autism/pdd. They describe the abnormal perceptions of any sensory stimuli—sound, touch, light, smell, taste—and the responses expressed in "sensory defensive behaviours" as well as in high levels of anxiety and difficulties in attending to tasks, controlling impulses, tolerating frustration and balancing emotional reactions. Such behaviours are not consistent all the time or in different environments, and each individual has a unique combination. Children may actually seek some sensations to block out other sensations, or they may seem unresponsive because their nervous system "shuts down" to protect them from sensory overload. The theory of sensory integration is explained with special reference to three systems--tactile (touch), vestibular (movement and gravity), and proprioceptive (awareness of body position).

Above all, Building Bridges is a very useful practical guide for professionals, parents, teachers and other caregivers. Its second part presents detailed assessment tools as well as consistent strategies for managing challenging behaviour. Successful sensory integration techniques include the Wilbarger Protocol for Sensory Defensiveness, the Sensory Diet, general calming and alerting strategies, and advice for a wide range of specific problems. Advice is offered on adapting home, school and childcare environments and routines to be more consistent and predictable. And there are creative suggestions for activities, equipment and resources.

Building Bridges was written with young children in mind. But some of its insights and strategies can be applied and adapted for older children and adults. We are happy to report that young adults we know have responded well. We hope that, before too long, there will be a guide to sensory integration for teenagers and adults with autism/pdd, as part of an increased awareness of the continuing need for bridges between their worlds and ours.