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Five Sensory Processing Assessment Tools Used in School-Based OT


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Last month, I shared the most common fine motor and handwriting assessment tools in school-based OT. However, we all know that fine motor is only one piece of the occupational therapy evaluation puzzle.


Another piece to the evaluation puzzle is sensory perception and integration.


As school-based OT practitioners, we understand and appreciate the challenges of assessing sensory processing skills in children. It can be a complex and multifaceted area that requires specialized training and expertise. No one tool is always going to be the right piece.

However, it is also a crucial aspect of our work that can significantly impact a child's academic and social success.

That's why I put together this post to introduce you to five assessment tools that can help you assess sensory processing skills.


Let's dive in.



Assessment Tools for Sensory Processing in School-based OT


There are several assessment tools that school-based OT practitioners can use to evaluate sensory processing concerns in students. Today we will touch on the most commonly used and discussed sensory tools. You will likely be familiar with some, while others may be new to you.




Sensory Profile 2


The Sensory Profile 2 is a standardized assessment tool that evaluates sensory processing patterns across multiple contexts. It measures the child's responses to sensory stimuli and provides information about how they process and respond to sensory input. The tool is administered through a questionnaire completed by parents, teachers, or other caregivers familiar with the child's behavior in different settings.

  • Published: 2014

  • Age range: Birth to 14:11 years

    • An adolescent/adult version is also available for ages 11+

  • Administration time: ~20 minutes for the teacher or caregiver

  • Pros: Provides a comprehensive evaluation of sensory processing patterns across multiple school-related contexts as observed by a teacher. The tool includes a "School Companion" form that can be used to collect data from a student's teacher.

  • Cons: Results may be influenced by teachers' or caregivers' perception of the student's non-sensory related behaviors during testing. Since it is a checklist, all results are based on someone's perception of a child rather than the child's ability at a given moment. I find the paper/pencil version of the tool to be challenging to score. The digital version alleviates this tremendously.



Sensory Processing Measure-2


The Sensory Processing Measure (SPM-2) is another standardized assessment tool that evaluates sensory processing patterns across multiple contexts. It is similar to the SP-2 in that it also measures the child's responses to sensory stimuli and provides information about how they process and respond to sensory input. Likewise, the tool is administered through a questionnaire completed by parents, teachers, or other caregivers familiar with the child's behavior in different settings.


  • Published: 2021

  • Age range: 4 months to 87 years

  • Administration time: 15-20 minutes

  • Pros: Very similar to the SP-2, except it takes less time to score. It may yield fewer data points about a child below the surface scores than the SP-2. I like to use the SPM classroom form in my evaluations. I will sometimes send the "home form" to the parents if I feel that it is necessary to gather more data.

  • Cons: Similar to the Sensory Profile, results may be influenced by teachers' or caregivers' perception of the student's non-sensory related behaviors during testing. Since it is a checklist, all results are based on someone's perception of a child rather than the child's ability at a given moment.



Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)


The Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) evaluate multiple aspects of sensory integration and praxis, including tactile perception, visual perception, motor planning, and more. The SIPT consists of 17 tests that assess different aspects of sensory integration and praxis. The test is administered by a trained professional in a one-on-one setting.


  • Published 1989

  • Age range: 4 to 8:11 years

  • Administration time: 2-3 hours for the whole set of tests

  • Tests include: Space Visualization; Figure Ground Perception; Standing Walking Balance; Design Copying; Postural Praxis; Bilateral Motor; Coordination; Praxis on Verbal Command; Constructional Praxis; Post-Rotary Nystagmus; Motor Accuracy; Sequencing Praxis; Oral Praxis; Manual Form Perception; Kinesthesia; Finger Identification; Graphesthesia; Localization of Tactile; Stimuli

  • Pros: Provides a VERY comprehensive evaluation of multiple aspects of sensory integration and praxis. The SIPT has long been called the "Gold Standard" of sensory assessment tools due to its thoroughness and the research base supporting it.

  • Cons: Lengthy administration time may make it difficult to use in busy school settings. I can attest to this. As a SIPT-Certified therapist, it would take me 3 hours to conduct. That is partly due to needing to use the tool more to become accustomed to it. It just wasn't the tool I used for every evaluation. Scoring can also be challenging and requires training to interpret with accuracy.


What assessment tool do you most commonly used to assess sensory processing skills?

  • SPM - 2

  • Sensory Profile - 2

  • SIPT

  • EASI



Evaluation in Ayres Sensory Integration® (EASI)


The Evaluation in Ayres Sensory Integration® (EASI) builds on the SIPT's research base and evaluates multiple aspects of sensory integration.

Through 20 individual 5-10 minute tests, the EASI aims to measure the core constructs of Ayres Sensory Integration, including tactile perception, visual perception, motor planning, praxis, and more.


  • Release date: 2023, by the Collaborative for Leadership in Ayres Sensory Integration (CLASI)

  • Age range: 3-12 years old

  • Time to administer: Approximately 2 hours

  • Pros: Provides a comprehensive evaluation of multiple aspects of sensory integration. This is the closest tool to the SIPT and is based on Ayres Sensory Integration®. The EASI is also designed to be open access and available to OT practitioners with the required training. The training is a costly one-time investment, but the testing kit, forms, and scoring software are affordable. In fact, you can 3D print some of the tools, and the test forms are free to print.

  • Cons: Like the SIPT, the EASI's lengthy administration time may make it difficult for some school-based OTs to use. OTPs must complete Modules 2 and 3 from the Collaborative for Leadership in Ayres Sensory Integration (CLASI) to be trained in administering and using the EASI. This could also be noted as a "pro" given the knowledge you will have after completing the training.


Structured Observations of Sensory Integration SOSI-M


The Structured Observations of Sensory Integration (SOSI-M) aims to evaluate a student's sensory processing patterns in real-time during a structured observation. The practitioner observes the student's skills and behaviors during specific activities and records what they see using a structured form.


  • Published: 2021

  • Authored by: Erna Imperatore Blanche, PhD, OTR/L, Gustavo Reinoso, PhD, OTR/L, and Dominique Blanche Kiefer, OTD, OTR/L

  • Age range: 5 to 14 years

  • Administration time: 20-40 minutes to complete the 14 sets of administered items.

  • Pros: Provides real-time evaluation of a student's sensory processing patterns. The SOSI-M can be used with the COP-R, a behavioral observation tool, to gather behavioral data related to sensory processing. I have yet to use this tool, but it does intrigue me.

  • Cons: I have yet to use this tool, but I imagine it would take some training, given it is an observation-based assessment. While you do not need specific training to purchase the SOSI-M, you will likely need to be trained in what to look for as you complete the observations.


 
You've assessed the student. Now what?

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Additional Notes on Completing Evaluations

It is important to remember that more than one assessment tool is needed to gather a comprehensive evaluation. To ensure that an OT evaluation is comprehensive, it should include an occupational profile, observations in the natural context, standardized and/or unstandardized assessment tools, and a synthesis of all of the data. You should also assess beyond just sensory processing skills to get a holistic view of the student's abilities and needs.


Assessing Beyond Sensory Processing


While sensory processing skills are a crucial focus of school-based occupational therapy, it's important to note that we address a wide range of areas that contribute to students' overall success and participation in the school environment. While sensory assessment tools provide valuable insights into sensory sensitivities, perception, and praxis, they do not capture the full scope of an OT's expertise and intervention strategies. Here are a few additional areas in which we assess:


  1. Fine Motor Skills: Assessing a student's ability to use and coordinate small muscles in the hands and fingers to perform precise movements required for handwriting, opening containers, and more.

  2. Self-Care and Independence: Assessing students' ability to perform daily living tasks, such as dressing and grooming, to enhance independence and functional participation.

  3. Visual Perception and Visual-Motor Skills: Evaluating how students interpret and use visual information for motor planning and coordination, supporting academic performance.

  4. Executive Functioning: Assessing skills related to organization, time management, planning, and self-regulation to address challenges that impact task initiation, focus, time management, and assignment completion.

  5. Social-Emotional Skills: Assessing students' social interactions, emotional regulation, self-awareness, and coping strategies to enhance social skills, self-esteem, and emotional well-being, fostering positive relationships and school engagement.


By considering these additional areas and employing comprehensive assessment approaches, we can address the diverse needs of students and support their holistic development, functional participation, and overall well-being in the school environment.


The Final Word


To wrap this up, assessing sensory processing skills is crucial to help us identify areas of strength and concerns during our evaluation. As mentioned above, several tools are available to help with this process. The SPM-2 and the SP-2 are likely the most commonly used tools in schools due to their ease of use and time to complete them.


If you do use the SP-2 or the SPM-2, be sure to include observations of sensory processes in your evaluation report - especially if the tool indicates a sensory processing concern.


The SIPT, EASI, and SOSI-M provide OT practitioners the ability to obtain much more data related to a student's sensory processing and integration abilities than the SP and SPM-2. However, they require more time and additional training to administer and interpret. It is up to you to decide if you have that time and want to pursue the necessary training. It is worth reaching out to your employer for support if you do want to explore this further.


I was very fortunate that a district I worked for paid for me to get SIPT certified. And while I may have used the SIPT sparingly, the knowledge I gained from the courses will stay with me forever.


I hope this article helps you as you decide what tool or tools you will use and purchase at your school sites.


Thank you so much for reading, and I will see you next time.


👋 Jayson


 
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