Science and Autism: Sensory Integration Therapy, Vanderbilt's Wilkerson Center, and Real Research

Posted on is running a story, Scientists look to help children with autism find a voice.  The article follows a child who has had communication issues because he was diagnosed with Autism, and was taken to Vanderbilt's Wilkerson Center to attend a special needs school.  This special needs school is performing research on various therapy methods that claim to help autistic children, so as to determine their effectiveness.  One such therapy is Sensory Integration Therapy. 

Sensory integration therapy basically places the child in a room where the entire experience is designed to work toward a single goal:  teach the child.  For instance, in the room a child may sit at a computer and learn words with pictures, and have a therapist sit with him to tell them what the word means (matching the computer).  Next, the student is given a book with sentences that contain all the words he has worked on, so that he can cement them into his long-term memory.  Sound familiar?  It's the same process one goes through when learning a new language.  And for autistic children, that is essentially what they are doing. 

The research is focused on not just checking to see if this and other therapies are effective, but what long term effects they have.  Part of that determination is a brain scan both before and after the therapy.  Because they are using scientific measurements, double-blind studies, etc., the research can therefore be trusted and parents know that it is both safe and effective. 

So why is Vanderbilt even bothering with this research?  Because, as their scientist put it:

"Families who have a child with autism face daunting challenges, says Camarata. "Because of this, they are often going to leave no stone unturned in their searches for solution. Unfortunately, there are a lot of fringe treatments out there, they aren't effective and haven't been scientifically validated."

With a week of a prominent celebrity with little education turned instant "autism expert", it's good to see that real research resumes and parents are willing to recognize the importance of safe, real studies over new-age hype.  There are so many snake-oil salesmen out there peddling poisons as autism cures, It's important that we have scientists like Docter Stephen Camarata out there who are concerned with protecting our children.  Better his protection then the desire to fleece families of all their money with empty promises and poison cures. 

Thank you, Dr. Camarata.  Our thanks go out to you and to your staff for the important work you are doing.