Low-cost, at-home treatment involves sensory exercises with common household items.
Children with autism showed significant improvement after six months of simple sensory exercises at home using everyday items such as scents, spoons and sponges, according to UC Irvine neurobiologists.
They found that a treatment known as environmental enrichment led to notable gains in male subjects between the ages of 3 and 12. Results appear online in Behavioral Neuroscience.
Study co-authors Cynthia Woo and Michael Leon randomly assigned 28 boys to one of two groups, balanced for age and autism severity. For half a year, all subjects participated in standard autism therapies, but those in one group also had daily sensory enrichment exercises.
Parents of these children were given a kit containing household products to increase environmental stimulation, including essential-oil fragrances such as apple, lavender, lemon and vanilla. The boys smelled four of these scents a day and listened to classical music each evening.
In addition, the parents conducted twice-daily sessions of four to seven exercises with their children involving different combinations of sensory stimuli – touch, temperature, sight and movement among them. Each session took 15 to 30 minutes to complete.
After six months of therapy, 42 percent of the children in the enrichment group showed significant improvement in behaviors commonly affected by autism – such as relating to people, having typical emotional responses and listening – compared with 7 percent in the standard-care group.