Effects of Multisensory Therapy on Behaviour of Adult Clients with Developmental Disabilities

Chan Sally, David, R. Thompson , P C Chau, W Tam, I Ws Chiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to present the best available evidence on the effect of multisensory therapy in adult clients with developmental disabilities on the frequency of challenging behaviour, the frequency of stereotypic self-stimulating behaviour, and the frequency of relaxing behaviour INCLUSION CRITERIA: The review summarised all the relevant studies relating to the multisensory therapy intervention.

TYPES OF PARTICIPANTS: Trials which included adult clients (aged 18-60) diagnosed with mental retardation according to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: IV Classification or those with an Intelligence Quotient < 70 and who stayed in institutions.Types of interventions: Multisensory therapy/ multisensory environment/ SnoezelenTypes of outcomes measures: Outcome measures of interest were challenging behaviour, stereotypic self-stimulating behaviour and relaxing behaviour.Types of studies: This study considered any randomized or quasi-randomized controlled trials that investigated the effectiveness of multisensory therapy on adult clients with developmental disabilities. Due to a limited number of high quality RCT's on this subject, papers using other experimental or observational designs were also included.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Electronic databases were used to search for primary publications. The reference lists and bibliographies of retrieved articles were reviewed to identify research not located through other search strategies.

CRITICAL APPRAISAL: Two reviewers assessed all identified abstracts and full reports were retrieved for all studies that met the inclusion criteria of the review. Studies identified from bibliography searches were assessed on the study title. Methodological quality was assessed by two reviewers using a checklist. Disagreements between reviewers were resolved by discussion with a third reviewer.

DATA EXTRACTION: Data were extracted independently by two reviewers using a data extraction tool. A third reviewer dealt with disagreements.

DATA SYNTHESIS: In all studies percentages of clients in each category and/or change in group mean score for outcomes were reported. If appropriate, results from comparable groups of studies were pooled in statistical meta-analysis using Review Manager Software from the Cochrane Collaboration. Odds ratio (for categorical outcome data) or weighted mean differences (for continuous data) and their 95% confidence intervals were calculated for each analysis. Heterogeneity between combined studies was tested using standard chi-square test. For the purpose of this review, where possible, intention to treat and/or completer analysis were performed. Where statistical pooling was not appropriate or possible, the findings were summarised in narrative form.

RESULTS: 130 publications were identified through the various database searches and review of reference list and bibliographies. However, only 15 English publications were included in the review. The present evidence showed that multisensory therapy promoted participants' positive emotions and they reported being happier and more relaxed. Evidence also indicated that participants' had displayed more positive emotions and less negative emotions after therapy sessions.

CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review demonstrated a beneficial effect of multisensory therapy in promoting participants' positive emotions. Out of the 15 reviewed studies, 12 studies had a single treatment group only. While the reviewers acknowledge the difficulty in carrying out randomised controlled trial in people with developmental disabilities and challenging behaviour, the lack of trial-derived evidence makes it difficult to produce a strong conclusion to show the effectiveness of the multisensory therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-353
Number of pages45
JournalJBI library of systematic reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Journal Article

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