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Scholars of sensory integration research convene at USC

by Mike McNulty
USC alum Rodney Peete has previously spoken at the USC Occupational Science Symposium. (Photo/Steve Cohn)
USC alum Rodney Peete has previously spoken at the USC Occupational Science Symposium. (Photo/Steve Cohn)

National experts on the sensory issues tied to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders exchanged their respective research at the 24th USC Occupational Science Symposium, which brought together dozens of leaders from across the country to assess the field and prioritize future research directions.

Hosted by the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and its Sensory Integration, Engagement and Family Program, more than 350 researchers, clinicians and educators attended “Sensory Integration at the Crossroads: Diverse Perspectives in Occupational Therapy Research.”

“We have entered into an unprecedented era for research on sensory integration therapy,” said Florence Clark, professor and associate dean of the division. “In just the past two years, researchers featured at this year’s symposium have conducted landmark randomized controlled trials demonstrating the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy for children diagnosed with autism, so it’s quite obvious why we are excited today.”

In addition to behavioral, communicative and social deficits, children and adults with autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities can also have central nervous system dysfunctions that affect processing of sensory stimuli such as sound, touch or motion. Because their brains atypically perceive, process and react to the surrounding environment, this dysfunction may be an underlying cause of behaviors such as rocking or spinning the body, inattention and hyperactivity often observed in this population.

The event was highlighted by the 2013 Wilma West lecture from Ellen Cohn, interim chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at Boston University’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Cohn stressed the importance of respecting parents’ goals, ambitions and values for all practitioners who treat children with autism.

Established in 1988, the symposium is the division’s premier academic event which gathers leaders from various health, medical and social science professions and disciplines to propel forward the discipline of occupational science.

Notable past speakers at the Occupational Science Symposium include former USC and National Football League quarterback Rodney Peete ’88, primatologist Jane Goodall and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Peete is an advocate for persons with autism spectrum disorders.

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