Turn on a film dubbed in a language that you’ve never actually learned and watch and listen. Gobbledygook…nonsense…just a blare of unintelligible noise spewing out from the screen, a la Charlie Brown’s teacher. That’s exactly how a kid with autism feels every time their mom coos, “I love you,” or their dad laughs at their sibling’s antics. The autistic child’s lack of understanding of speech, sound and expression ultimately hinders their ability to communicate at all. If you can’t understand Chinese, no way will you be able to speak it.
The Susan Gray School for special needs kids at Vanderbilt University has undertaken a research project using sensory integration therapy that they hope may ultimately help autistic children gain a voice.
Occupational therapists show kids pictures on a screen and ask them to name each object–over and over and over again. The children are given a story using the words they have seen on the screen and are inundated with the corresponding words and images. Post-therapy, the children are fitted with headgear that records their brain language while watching a video that includes the words they’ve just learned in order for docs to gain a clearer picture as to how autism works.
The researchers hope that the constant repetition will permanently link the word and the image in the child’s memory–step #1 in speaking a language.
Sensory integration has it’s fans, but according to Dr. Stephen Camarata, a professor of hearing and speech science at Vanderbilt’s Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences, there is very little scientific data confirming its effectiveness–and for that reason he considers the therapy a test and wants to be able to come up with a definitive conclusion.
Cautiously optimistic may be the best way to explain Camarata’s position. Let’s hope he’s right. The last thing parents of autistic kids need is another loud voice that they feel speaks for them, although with no scientific backup at all.
That being said, parents whose kiddos are enrolled in the study have great hope and feel that they have seen an improvement, like this family below. With a little luck, the science will back it up.