ABA VS Sensory Integration Therapy: The Difference

If you’ve been researching treatment options for your child with Autism, you’ve likely come across these two terms. Both ABA and Sensory Integration Therapy are highly effective techniques to help your child adjust better to social situations, and get along with other people. The two, however, address different aspects of Autistic behavior. Here, we provide a brief introduction to the difference between ABA and Sensory Integration Therapy.

Understanding Autism

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social, behavioral, and communicative abilities. Children with Autism tend to have trouble following social norms or communicating with others, and may also react negatively to sensory stimuli. Treatment options include various kinds of therapy to help the child handle themselves better and fit into social situations.

ABA vs Sensory Integration Therapy

Before we go into the difference between ABA and Sensory Integration Therapy, let’s take a closer look at each.

Applied Behavior Therapy (ABA) is one of the most commonly prescribed therapy options for children with Autism. It involves helping children achieve positive goals, and teaching them how to recognize and consequently avoid negative behaviors. Therapists will observe the child’s current behavioral patterns and then tailor a treatment plan based on the appropriate skills to pick up. They then break down each skill into smaller components and teach the child those components through reinforcement, repetition, and rewards. Typically, parents and other caregivers also participate in ABA to reinforce the lessons outside of the fixed therapy hours.

Sensory Integration Therapy focuses on sensory processing disorders, including hyperstimulation and hypostimulation. The goal is to help the child adjust to overwhelming sensory input while moderating the input the child is hyposensitive to. This type of therapy usually involves a tailored sensory diet to help the child process inputs in the correct fashion. It can include various sensory toys, a special diet to accommodate food sensory issues, physical exercises, and a sensory gym.

From this, a key point of difference emerges:

  • Sensory Integration Therapy focuses on the child’s ability to receive sensory information, match it with prior knowledge in the brain, and develop a suitable response. A child with Autism is often unable to process sensory information such as sounds, bright lights, or textures, and thus responds with unusual actions like yelling, stimming, or hitting out. While this may seem like simple misbehavior, it is in fact a neurological response, as a result of a maladjusted sensory processing system.
  • On the other hand, ABA focuses on developing appropriate behaviors while discouraging negative or harmful ones. These behaviors relate more to daily interactions with or without other people, such as taking a bath, getting dressed for school, or sharing toys with a peer. The focus is on helping children adjust better to situations they are uncomfortable with, rather than situations that trigger them neurologically. 

Which is better for my child?

When it comes to deciding whether to go for ABA vs Sensory Integration Therapy, it is important to consult a healthcare team who can examine your child and determine the right course of action. Some of the techniques they may use to make a diagnosis include clinical observations, interviews with caregivers and teachers about the child’s behavior, sensory profiling, and a sensory integration observation checklist. Ultimately, they may even determine that your child needs both forms of therapy, in which case they will draw up a suitable treatment plan.

In conclusion, the difference between ABA and Sensory Integration Therapy lies chiefly in the underlying problem they are addressing. If your child with Autism has been displaying inappropriate or dangerous behaviors, take them to a therapist who can decide whether ABA or Sensory Integration Therapy is the best way to help them develop positive responses.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.