Guidelines for Competency in the Application of Sensory Integration Theory

The following statement reflects the position of University of Southern California, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and Western Psychological Services (USC/WPS) in partnership, regarding the guidelines for minimum qualifications needed for the use of the sensory integrative frame of reference in therapeutic practice. This statement is intended to promote uniformly high standards of practice in the delivery of services for clients with sensory integrative disorders in order to:

  1. Inform consumers seeking such services.

  2. Promote the understanding and appropriate application of sensory integrative theory.
  3. Support best practice within the field of occupational therapy.

The sensory integration frame of reference is used primarily by occupational therapists in the area of pediatrics. Other professions have adapted this information for use with their clients; however, certification through USC/WPS is restricted to professionally qualified occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech and language pathologists. Paraprofessionals such as occupational therapy assistants or physical therapy assistants are not eligible for certification. While these individuals may apply sensory integration principles in their practice area, it is always done under the direct supervision of a professional in their discipline who specializes in sensory integration according to the guidelines established with their professional license/registration.

Competencies in the use of sensory integration theory and its application are developed primarily through postgraduate continuing education, mentoring, and clinical experience. In order to support these aims, USC and WPS in partnership offer the Comprehensive Program in Sensory Integration leading to certification in sensory integration including administering and interpreting the Sensory Integration and Practice Tests. Additionally, USC provides a 4-month clinical training program in sensory integration. Advanced training in sensory integration may also be provided through university curricula, clinical practica, and mentorship by occupational therapists certified and experienced in sensory integration theory and practice.

Certification in Sensory Integration is highly recommended when using sensory integration in occupational therapy. Upon completion of the Comprehensive Program in Sensory Integration and related requirements, USC/WPS awards a numbered certificate that indicates that the therapist has obtained Certification in Sensory Integration including the Administration and Interpretation of the SIPT. Certification is the minimum requirement for developing competencies in sensory integration.

In order to maintain competencies in the application of sensory integration theory, the following is required to ensure that skills learned through certification are honed and continually advanced:

    1. Experience applying sensory integration methods especially in the format of clinic based services is strongly recommended for a minimum of two years.
    2. Mentorship, through supervision, consultation, and professional guidance by a therapist certified in sensory integration.
    1. Ongoing study and review of the literature that supports sensory integrative theory and its application.
  1. As the therapist refines their expertise in sensory integration, ongoing feedback from professional peers who are also involved in using sensory integration as a frame of reference, as a check and balance for best practice.

The following core content is essential knowledge for the occupational therapist using the sensory integrative frame of reference in best practice.

  1. Sensory Integration Theory 
    (Information provided through USC/WPS Course 1 and OT610 including recommended and required readings) 
    1. The original works of Dr. A. Jean Ayres.
    2. Sensory integration-related publications and research.
    3. Typical and atypical development.
    4. Concepts of neuroplasticity, function and dynamic interactions of major neural areas, sensory processing, integration, and perception.


  2. Assessment of Sensory Integration and Praxis 
    (Information provided in USC/WPS Course 2)
    1. Understanding of the way in which assessments of sensory integration are administered as part of an overall occupational therapy evaluation (see Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, AOTA, 2002).
    2. Competence in administration of the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests, a set of rigorously designed standardized tests that are considered the "gold standard" for assessing sensory integration and praxis. The SIPT were developed for assessing children ages 4 years to 8 years 11 months.
    3. Knowledge of sensory integration theory and tests and measurements necessary to administer and interpret the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests and related information.
    4. Skilled assessment of postural control through clinical observations and sensory modulation through parent report.
    5. Skilled assessment of sensory modulation and self-regulation through family and teacher report.
    6. Skilled observations of typical and atypical behaviors related to sensory integrative processes.


  3. Interpretation of Assessment Data for Intervention Planning 
    (Information provided in USC/WPS Course 3)
    1. Ways to analyze assessment data that includes the SIPT, Clinical Observations, Sensory Histories and Occupational Profile for the development of an intervention plan.
    2. Understanding of sensory systems and factor and cluster analysis providing insights into patterns of sensory integrative dysfunction.
    3. Knowledge of patterns of sensory integrative dysfunction that may predict strengths and weaknesses in the individual’s ability to function and to guide intervention.
    4. Understanding of the implications of sensory integrative dysfunction and its relationship to functionally relevant goals and objectives.
    5. Analysis of the relationship of sensory integrative dysfunction and its impact on participation in the family, home and school.


  4. Occupational Therapy Intervention using Sensory Integrative Strategies 
    (Information provided in USC/WPS Course 4 and OT610) 
    1. Knowledge of sensory integration as both a method and philosophy of intervention.
    2. Comprehension of the ways in which the sensory integrative frame of reference is used by occupational therapists as part of their overall professional practice.
    3. Skill in application of the principles of sensory integration including providing the proper environment, necessary equipment, planning space, timing, and rhythm of the sessions, and making environmental modifications.
    4. Appreciation for inclusion, education, and consultation with the family and other significant individuals.

July 6, 2003