Michael Leon

leonAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) is expressed as a social-behavioral imbalance that often involves communication difficulties, maladaptive behaviors, cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, motor (movement) problems, seizures, and gastrointestinal distress. Commonly, individuals with ASD experience some form of atypical sensory responsiveness, including sensory over-sensitivity, sensory unresponsiveness, or sensory-seeking behaviors. In animal models of autism, increases in both sensory stimulation and motor activity have been shown to result in many benefits, including improvements in learning and memory, reduction in aggressive behavior, decreased anxiety, and reduction of repetitive behaviors. We have translated this approach to humans, and we have been studying the benefits of increased sensory-motor activity in children with ASD. In a clinical trial, we examined the effects of sensory-motor enrichment in children with ASD, age 3-12, and found that 42% of the children receiving the sensory-motor enrichment had a clinically significant improvement on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). In addition, statistically significant improvements in cognition were observed in the sensory-motor enrichment group compared to the control group. Finally, 69% of parents in the sensory-motor enrichment group and 31% of parents in the control group reported improvement in their child over the 6-month study (in press). We are currently conducting another clinical study involving children with ASD, age 3-6. In this study, we are continuing to examine the benefits of an enriched sensory-motor environment on cognitive abilities and behavior in children with ASD. Enrollment in this study has closed.

Autism Clinical Trials Program

UCI Faculty Profile