Effect of an acute Sensory Integration therapy on the postural stability and gaze patterns of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.S. in Mechanical Engineering


Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Advisor: Kimberly E. Bigelow


Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) struggle with sensory regulation, resulting in decreased motor control, unusual gaze patterns, and decreased postural stability. Sensory integration therapy is a common therapy used to help children with ASD with these issues, however, there is insufficient quantitative research concerning the actual results of sensory integration therapy with respect to human biomechanics. It was the objective of this study to quantify the acute effects of a vestibular treatment on postural stability and gaze patterns of children with ASD. Five children with ASD and five TD children participated in the posturography protocol, and four children with ASD and 4 TD children participated in the eye tracking protocol portion of the study. The study used a pre-test, post-test methodology to evaluate changes caused by a vestibular swing therapy. Postural control data was collected while subjects stood on a balance plate under a variety of sensory conditions. Gaze fixation were recorded via eye tracking equipment while subjects played fine and gross motor games. It was determined that the subjects with ASD who underwent the posturography study demonstrated improved postural stability and dynamic postural complexity, especially in the eyes open/flat plate condition. This improvement included decreased sway range, mean sway velocity, sway root mean square and increased M/L Sample Entropy. Although only 5 subjects were tested, the results of a nonparametric Wilcoxon Ranks Test were approaching significance (p = .08) for the MV parameter. There were no conclusive trends generated from the eye tracking data. The results suggest that children with ASD experience a beneficial effect from an SI therapy protocol and that posturography is a test method that could be further employed to study this phenomenon. Currently, eye tracking does not appear to be an ideal evaluative tool for a short-term therapy protocol.


Sensorimotor integration Research, Autistic children Physical therapy Research, Autistic children Sense organs Research, Vestibular apparatus Research, Biomechanics; Mechanical Engineering; Autism; Autism Spectrum Disorder; Sensory Integration Therapy; sensory processing; posturography; postural stability; eye tracking; gaze analysis; sample entropy; therapeutic efficacy

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