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A pilot study to determine the feasibility of enhancing cognitive abilities in children with sensory processing dysfunction

April 5, 2017

PLUS ONE — April 2017 —

Children with Sensory Processing Dysfunction (SPD) experience incoming information in atypical, distracting ways. Qualitative challenges with attention have been reported in these children, but such difficulties have not been quantified using either behavioral or functional neuroimaging methods. Furthermore, the efficacy of evidence-based cognitive control interventions aimed at enhancing attention in this group has not been tested.

Here we present work aimed at characterizing and enhancing attentional abilities for children with SPD. A sample of 38 SPD and 25 typically developing children were tested on behavioral, neural, and parental measures of attention before and after a 4-week iPad-based at-home cognitive remediation program. At baseline, 54% of children with SPD met or exceeded criteria on a parent report measure for inattention/hyperactivity. Significant deficits involving sustained attention, selective attention and goal management were observed only in the subset of SPD children with parent-reported inattention. This subset of children also showed reduced midline frontal theta activity, an electroencephalographic measure of attention.

Following the cognitive intervention, only the SPD children with inattention/hyperactivity showed both improvements in midline frontal theta activity and on a parental report of inattention. Notably, 33% of these individuals no longer met the clinical cut-off for inattention, with the parent-reported improvements persisting for 9 months.

These findings support the benefit of a targeted attention intervention for a subset of children with SPD, while simultaneously highlighting the importance of having a multifaceted assessment for individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions to optimally personalize treatment.

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