Does Environmental Enrichment Treat Autism?

Enriched sensorimotor environments enable rodents to compensate for a wide range of neurological challenges, including those induced in animal models of autism. Given the sensorimotor deficits in most children with autism, a study published recently in Behavioral Neuroscience attempted to translate that approach to their treatment. In a randomized controlled trial, 3–12 year-old children with autism were assigned to either a sensorimotor enrichment group, which received daily olfactory/tactile stimulation along with exercises that stimulated other paired sensory modalities, or to a control group. Researchers administered tests of cognitive performance and autism severity to both groups at the initiation of the study and after 6 months. Severity of autism, as assessed with the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, improved significantly in the enriched group compared to controls. Indeed, 42% of the enriched group and only 7% of the control group had what was considered to be a clinically significant improvement of 5 points on that scale. Sensorimotor enrichment also produced a clear improvement in cognition, as determined by their Leiter-R Visualization and Reasoning scores. At 6 months, the change in average scores for the enriched group was 11.3 points higher than that for the control group. Finally, 69% of parents in the enriched group and 31% of parents in the control group reported improvement in their child over the 6-month study. Environmental enrichment therefore appears to be effective in ameliorating some of the symptoms of autism in children.

For the abstract

           

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