2021 Sensory Processing in Autism Presentations

Day 1 - Wednesday, June 9th

Sensory Processing in Autism: Story of a Scientific Revolution
Virginia Spielmann ~ STAR Institute

Despite OTs knowing for a long time that sensory integration is central to the autistic experience, it remains a commonly misunderstood aspect of development. At best, Sensory Integration differences are often considered peripheral or incidental to the lived experience of autism. However, in the last 7 years other fields have begun to catch up with key research, theory, and concept papers. The current discussion regarding sensory contributors to function and participation in autism has the potential to truly influence quality of life for the better. An understanding of this paradigm shift provides professionals and the autistic community with powerful tools for advocacy.

This presentation will summarize key (non-OT) research and concept papers that have emerged in the last six years and discuss the implications for understanding the client factors that impact function and participation in autism. Sensory processing and integration abilities/challenges as a critical dimension influencing development and psychological well-being will be discussed.

  • Describe sensory processing patterns beyond over- or under- responsivity and identify 2-3 common presentations of sensory processing differences.
  • Discuss 2-3 key papers that highlight the centrality of sensory integration and processing to the autistic lived experience
  • Identify new, expanded understanding around the role of sensory motor functioning and sensory features in autism and the development of the autistic individual
  • Discuss the implications for practice and research and the scope of the health practitioner’s role

Current Issues in Assessing the Sensory Needs of Autistic People
Dr. Damian Milton ~ University of Kent

This presentation examines how the sensory needs of autistic people are currently assessed, including a critique of such assessments, alongside an exploration of support strategies that can be employed to help autistic people such as the low-arousal approach and universal design.

  • Identify limitations in current theory regarding the sensory needs of autistic people
  • Identify limitations in current practice regarding supporting the sensory needs of autistic people
  • Recognize the sensory needs of autistic people more easily in order to reflect on practice strategies

How to Create Sensory Haven: Advice for Parents on Building a Sensory Lifestyle at Home When you Have Conflicting Sensory Needs
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

This presentation will blend first-person experiences with relevant research to help families and individuals identify and problem solve for conflicting sensory needs in a variety of contexts. There will be focused discussion around developing pre-emptive strategies, contingency plans and practical solutions for home and community use.

  • Recognize the intersectionality of sensory needs, functionality, and behavior expressions
  • Identify potential effective strategies that could be used in home and community contexts for divergent sensory needs
  • Reflect on a strengths-based perspective for addressing and honoring sensory needs

Sensory Stim-Ploration: The Joyful Exploration of Sensory Stims
Riah Person

This interactive workshop gives each of us permission and opportunity to explore our own experience with a variety of sensory based stimming and play. This workshop focuses on curiosity, exploration, and reflection. Participants will be provided with a worksheet to help them prepare for the experiences/items they will be asked to engage with during the live event.

  • Identify guided sensory-based stims representing multiple sensory systems
  • Describe how to engage in joy-based play and stims with the Autistic individual
  • Recall imaginative alternatives for harmful stims

Day 2 - Thursday, June 10th

The Joy of a Sensory-Friendly Home Life
Shannon Des Roches Rosa ~ Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

How can we create sensory-friendly environments that allow everyone therein to function best? It isn't always easy, and can mean compromise if there are competing access needs. But by placing a focus on how autistic people and others with sensory sensitivities perceive and process their environment, and by reframing sensory modifications as caring adjustments rather than impositions, we can create spaces in which we all thrive.

  • Identify examples of sensory needs and accommodations
  • Identify competing access needs and accommodations
  • Explain how to enable sensory friendly environments in shared spaces such as classrooms and homes

Implications of Sensory and Movement Differences for Understanding Autistic People
Steven Kapp ~ University of Portsmouth

This presentation provides scientific and practical information about the sensory movement model of autism. It presents an overview of the neurodiversity concept, critiques the medical model, and tries to explain autism. It explains the broad factors within and between people that contribute to autistic people's traits and functioning. This includes the complexity of social dynamics and the sensory and motor contributions to autism, with implications for supporting autistic people.

  • Recognize the neurodiversity concept
  • Explain the sensory movement model of autism
  • Identify practical ways to support autistic people

Troubleshooting Sensory Differences in Intimacy
Stephanie Mitelman ~ SexEd Mart

This interactive workshop will support participants in safely exploring the impacts of disordered tactile processing sexuality and intimacy. As a primary system involved in human sexual activity, the role of touch and its effects will be discussed as well as difficulties faced by those with disordered touch processing. The workshop with provide simple solutions those impacted by disordered touch, supporting healthy, safe, and fulfilling sexual and intimate experiences.

  • Explain how touch affects sexuality
  • Define hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to touch
  • Identify at least 3 simple solutions for addressing tactile hyper or hyposensitivity to touch in relation to intimate and/or sexual activities

Sleep, Sensory Processing and Autism
Shelly Lane & Marco Leão ~ Colorado State University; 7Senses, Integração Sensorial

Sleep is an occupation crucial to optimal health and wellness for all individuals (Tester & Foss, 2017). Unfortunately the prevalence of sleep dysfunction is high in the general population, and higher in individuals with mental health concerns (Hombali, et al, 2018). In autism the prevalence of sleep dysfunction is particularly high, with 40-80% of children have a range of sleep disorders. Understanding the etiology of sleep problems in autism and the impact these concerns have on occupation and participation for both child and family will support greater focus in intervention. The foundation of sleep disorders in autism is multifactorial and sensory processing concerns have been implicated (Liu et al., 2006; Reynolds et al., 2012; Mazurek & Petroski, 2015; Tzischinsky et al., 2018). Here we present initial findings from a systematic review of sleep dysfunction in autism. We present the basics of sleep, describe sleep concerns in autism and examine the literature linking sleep dysfunction and sensory processing concerns in autistic individuals.  Because sleep dysfunction can have a significant impact on daily function, we look at the impact on occupation and participation for both child and family and consider how these features might influence assessment and intervention.

  • Describe the systems and processes involved in sleep and wakefulness
  • Describe the nature and features of sleep disorders in autism
  • Explain the relationship between sleep and sensory processing dysfunction
  • Describe the impact of sleep and sensory concerns on occupation and participation

Day 3 - Friday, June 11th

Nature is My Co-regulator
Erin Bulluss ~ Samson & Bulluss Psychology| Consulting

Dr. Bulluss's presentation will explore the value of nature as a co-regulator. Based on her first-person experience as an autistic individual and a parent of autistic children, Dr. Bulluss shares about her own engagement with nature and its relevance to her identity as an autistic individual. Using a sensory lens, she will discuss different aspects of the autistic experience with nature. Dr. Bulluss will provide ideas on how people can bring nature into their lives and those of their children, especially for those who find it difficult to engage with nature comfortably and consistently.

  • Explain how research supports the importance of nature in our sense of well-being
  • Describe a problem-solving framework to address barriers potentially faced by autistic individuals when accessing nature
  • Express the role nature can play in Autistic experience

Self-Advocacy and Sensory Processing: A Cornerstone
Sarah Selvaggi-Hernandez

This is a talk designed for autistic individuals but informative for non-autistics as well - we are all sensory beings. Autistic individuals have been denied opportunity to explore our developmental trajectories as neuro-divergent beings. This exploration and understanding is the first step towards self-acceptance, and in turn, self-advocacy. So we must ask, what is self-acceptance? Understanding what neuronormative is for an autistic person, and then fostering a positive identity as an autistic are core to this process.

  • Identify and validate majority neuro-divergent sensory experiences
  • Explain the role of regulation and techniques for managing regulation
  • Identify habilitative supports for autistic adults, including trauma and TBI-based services

The Brain-Body Disconnect: Bridging The Gap Toward Reliable Communication
Julie Sando & Jake Reisman ~ Autistically Inclined

Jake Reisman, an 18 year old who communicates through typing, and his communication partner and AT specialist, Julie Sando will give you insights straight from people on the spectrum who don't have reliable speech.  Do you know there is so much more inside your child or student, but they get stuck when they try to get the words out?  Is your loved one on repeat with verbal loops or motor loops?  This talk is for you!  Julie's 20+ years in the autism field have been turned upside down (in the best possible way) now that she gets to ask her non-speaking students all the burning questions she had for years.  Jake is an invaluable teacher, helping us learn more about what he really wants and how to make it happen!  These insights will definitely change your interactions in ways you can't imagine.

  • Recognize when a student is stuck in a loop and how to help them get unstuck
  • Identify when communication may be unreliable
  • Describe principles that create more purpose-filled movements

Sensory Health and Positive Autistic Identity Formation | Special Q&A Session with Our Hosts
Virginia Spielmann & Kieran Rose ~ STAR Institute; The Autistic Advocate


Day 4 - Saturday, June 12th

“I Feel Weird:” Communication of Inner State and Implications for Self-Regulation, Self-Advocacy, and Building Sense of Identity in the Neurodivergent Population
Rachel Dorsey ~ Rachel Dorsey: Autistic SLP, LLC

This presentation will discuss the relationship between language, interoception, and alexithymia as they relate to overall self-regulation in the neurodivergent population. Modern linguistic relativity – that language has an influence on our thoughts – will be discussed, as well as how effective communication of inner state is necessary for self-regulation and self-advocacy of regulatory needs. Going a step further, this presentation will explore how limited ability to communicate inner state ultimately impacts perception of oneself and perception of others, consistent with modern linguistic relativity. The presentation title, “I Feel Weird,” is inspired by the clinician’s own former (and still occasional) limited ability to express inner state.

  • Define the Sapir Worf Hypothesis and modern linguistic relativity
  • Recognize the relationship between modern linguistic relativity and the communication of inner state
  • Recognize the relationship between effective communication of inner state, self-regulation, and self-advocacy
  • Identify signs of difficulty communicating inner state due to interoceptive dysregulation and/or alexithymia within the neurodivergent population
  • Describe how to help neurodivergent clients build their sense of identity

The Power of Parents in Play
Renee Allen ~ ROOTS Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Too often we think play is something we do when we are done with our “work.” This presentation explores the benefits of play on brain development, the benefits of play on regulation, and the benefits of play on the parent-child relationship. Therapists and parents are presented with the HOW versus WHAT to focus on in play using STAR Institute’s model of SMART play.

  • List a number of developmental benefits of play
  • Explain the rational for including parents in play
  • Describe the elements of SMART play

Identifying Personal Sensory Stressors and Creating Sensory Joy
Amy Pearson ~ The University of Sunderland

In this workshop, Dr. Pearson speaks from a personal perspective about some of the challenges in recognizing personal sensory stressors, what we can do to identify them, and find strategies for coping. Dr. Pearson will also discuss how to identify sources of sensory joy, recognize what makes these things so stimulating, and draw upon this to improve our mental health.

  • Identify relationship between sensory input and experience of 'stress'
  • Recognize sensory aspects of stressors and pleasures
  • Identify potential ways to minimize stress/increase pleasure

Expert Panel
Virginia Spielmann, Kieran Rose, Dr. Amy Pearson, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu