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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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About Us
About Us

Sensory Integration / Ayres Sensory Integration®
As originated by Dr. A. Jean Ayres

Sensory integration (SI), also referred to as Ayres Sensory Integration® (ASI®) is a specialty area of occupational therapy that is based on over 50 years of theory and research originated at USC by Dr. A. Jean Ayres. The term “sensory integration” refers to:

  • The way the brain organizes sensations for engagement in occupation
  • A theory based on neuroscience that provides perspective for appreciating the sensory dimensions of human behavior
  • A model for understanding the way in which sensation affects development
  • Assessments including standardized testing, systematic observation, and parent or teacher interviews that identify patterns of sensory integration dysfunction
  • Intervention strategies that enhance information processing, praxis, and engagement in daily life for individuals, populations and organizations

Most SI research and practice focuses on children who have a variety of developmental and learning difficulties, including autism and other developmental disabilities, developmental risk conditions, behavior and attention disorders, learning disabilities and developmental coordination disorder. Thorough assessment is critical in ascertaining whether a sensory processing issue is a factor in the child’s development, and if so, which intervention strategies will best help the child and family.

Sensory integration intervention, or Ayres Sensory Integration®, as originated by Dr. Ayres takes place within a specially designed therapeutic environment that allows the therapist to present specific sensory experiences to the child, which gradually increase in complexity over time. This kind of intervention is characterized by a playful atmosphere in which the child is encouraged to generate ideas for activities, to flexibly respond to novel challenges and to develop confidence and competence. Ayres Sensory Integration® is considered an evidence-based practice for children and youth with autism. 

This intervention includes consultation and education with parents, teachers and other caregivers, modification of environments and inclusion of appropriate sensory-based activities throughout the day. The application of sensory integration principles within organizations takes into consideration the sensory demands in the workplace. The application for populations takes into account the sensory and practice differences and demands for a population such as adults with autism.


The sensory integration (SI) specialty was originally developed by USC Chan faculty member A. Jean Ayres PhD, OTR (1920–1988), who was both an occupational therapist and an educational psychologist. Dr. Ayres developed a theoretical framework, a set of standardized tests (today known as the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests), and a clinical approach for identification and remediation of sensory processing challenges in children. Her publications on sensory integration span a 30-year period from the 1960s through the 1980s, and include psychometric studies as well as clinical trials and single case studies. Dr. Ayres’ ideas ushered in a new way of looking at children and understanding many of the developmental, learning and emotional problems that arise during childhood.


Certificate Programs
USC Chan offers two programs focusing on sensory integration and sensory processing, which are the neurobehavioral tasks of processing sensory information and integrating it into purposeful actions.

The Sensory Integration Continuing Education (CE) Certificate Program is a four-course program open to occupational therapists who have graduated from an occupational therapy program that is recognized/approved by a government agency in the country of education (a limited number of physical therapists and speech therapists may also be eligible to complete the program). These introductory-level courses are designed for practicing occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants; however, all levels of experience are welcome as are all areas of practice. The online format allows participants to complete the program from anywhere, and our students have come from around the globe. International courses have also been offered in-person in more than 15 different countries across 4 continents, and USC Chan continues to expand to new countries each year.

The Sensory Processing/Sensory Integration Graduate Certificate is a more rigorous five-course program for developing expertise in identifying sensory processing disorders and using sensory integration treatments to address them, and includes hands-on clinical practice. The SP/SI Graduate Certificate is open to applications from current USC Chan graduate students, USC Chan alumni, and registered/licensed occupational therapists who have not matriculated at USC.

Elective Courses
Our USC Chan graduate students can take the OT 570 Sensory Processing and Sensory Integration elective course, which provides a comprehensive overview of sensory integration theory; and OT 610 Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, a 4-unit graduate course which entails in-person training — the course includes weekly seminars led by USC Chan faculty members and supervised, hands-on clinical intervention with children and families. 


Sensory processing and sensory integration are included as core areas of research at USC Chan today.

  • In the Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re) Lab, we are advancing our knowledge of early risk signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and promoting optimal engagement and development for young children with neurodevelopmental differences.
  • In the Sensory Adaptations in Dental Environments Lab, we are studying interventions that alter the sensory characteristics of the dental environment in order to decrease children’s physiological anxiety and negative responses during oral care and contribute to increased child comfort as well as safer, more efficient, and less costly dental treatment.
  • In the Boundary Crossings Lab, we have conducted several studies that specifically incorporate understandings of how sensory processing affects participation in daily life and community engagement; access and perceptions of benefits of sensory integration and sensory process related interventions; meanings of illnesses and developmental challenges in family life; and clinical and educational practices. Our work typically involves narrative and observational approaches to garnering multiple perspectives about experiences, understandings of neurodevelopmental challenges; significant events; clinical and therapeutic encounters; and how contexts impact participation, engagement, and inclusion.
  • The NICU Therapy Lab explores the impact of the environment, medical conditions, and therapeutic interventions on brain structure and functional outcomes of infants born prior to 32 weeks gestation who are hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit. The lab also conducts research centered around parental engagement, access to early intervention services, and development of assessment tools and new technologies and interventions. Recent developments from the NICU Therapy Lab include the Neonatal Eating Outcome Assessment, the Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) program, and the Baby Bridge program. Currently, the lab is focused on implementation of the SENSE program in hospitals throughout the US and abroad, adapting the Baby Bridge program to telehealth, and understanding early feeding performance and its implications on later outcomes.

In addition to current research initiatives, USC Chan has undertaken several initiatives to further support sensory processing and integration development, including stakeholder engagement projects. Recent efforts include the TRUST Project: Transforming Research: Understanding Sensory Experiences in ASD, Stakeholders Working Together, funded by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI); and the Sensory Processing and Autism Network, a community-based network of researchers, clinicians, and other community stakeholders.