Shelly J. Lane, Roseann C. Schaaf; Examining the Neuroscience Evidence for Sensory-Driven Neuroplasticity: Implications for Sensory-Based Occupational Therapy for Children and Adolescents. Am J Occup Ther 2010;64(3):375–390. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2010.09069
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© 2019 American Occupational Therapy Association
When Ayres first presented the theory of sensory integration (SI), she grounded it in the neuroscience literature. Neuroplasticity was then, and is today, considered to be at the heart of this theory. This evidence-based review sought to critically examine the basic science literature to specifically identify evidence for the assumptions and tenets of Ayres’ theory of SI. We reviewed literature between 1964 and 2005, within psychological, physiological, and biomedical areas, addressing neuroplasticity. The review focused on sensorimotor-based neuroplasticity; explored the data that addressed the links among sensory input, brain function, and behavior; and evaluated its relevance in terms of supporting or refuting the theoretical premise of occupational therapy using an SI framework (OT/SI) to treatment. Although direct application from basic science to OT/SI is not feasible, we concluded that there was a basis for the assumptions of Ayes’ SI theory.
The sensory environment and environmental opportunities or affordances generally affect brain structure and function (e.g., Bennett et al., 1974; Diamond et al., 1972; Kempermann & Gage, 1999; West & Greenough, 1972).
Noted changes are often, although not invariably, documented in behavior and in brain structure and function (e.g., Halder et al., 2005; Russo et al., 2005; You et al., 2005).
All regions of the brain do not show the same response to either specific sensory activation or enriched environments (e.g., Mercado et al., 2001).
Changes can be task specific, making it important to be focused in terms of outcome measures (e.g., Halder et al., 2005; Recanzone et al., 1993).
Changes are highly dynamic and seen very quickly (e.g., Pantev et al., 2003).
Changes can be long lasting, depending on the person and the environment (e.g., Stoeckel et al., 2004).
Some sensory systems have “critical periods” when processing changes may be easier to document or times when processing centers are more readily influenced by sensory input (e.g., Bavelier et al., 2001; Zhang et al., 2001).
Documentation supporting interaction among sensory systems exists; stimulus pairing may be an effective intervention tool. However, it is used as needed; if the task is simple, only one sensory modality may be needed, and integration of modalities does not occur (e.g., Guest & Spence, 2003; Hodzic, Veit, Karim, Erb, & Godde, 2004; Moses et al., 2005; Sober & Sabes, 2005).
It is important to consider the cognitive demands associated with a given task because these appear to have an effect on motor output and sensory processing (e.g., Braun et al., 2001; Kourtzi, Betts, Sarkheil, & Welchman, 2005).
Rich sensory input, contextualized in meaningful activity, facilitates neuroplasticity and thus growth, development, and behavior (e.g., Gómez-Pinilla et al., 2002).
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