Edwards, J. (2015). Exploring sensory sensitivities and relationships during group dance movement psychotherapy for adults with autism. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 10(1), 5-20.
The following study was conducted to explore the sensory experiences of adults with autism using Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). The author was interested in observing the attachment behaviors of adults with autism and finding out how they form relationships. The author used a case study design and justified using a qualitative design in order to explore human experience. As a result of selecting this design, only four participants were observed over an eight week period. To avoid bias, the researcher kept a reflexive journal and invited another researcher to observe the participants in order to compare findings. The researcher was aware that her extensive knowledge and experience working with autistic clients and her training as a dance movement therapist would potentially lead to bias. The researcher attempted to address this bias by asking a therapist with different training to be a co-researcher. Findings showed that participants experienced sensory sensitivities that influenced their relationships. The participants were able to adjust to each other’s sensory needs and become more aware of each other’s emotional and mental state. The researcher concluded that more research is needed for the autistic adult population.
The researcher did an excellent job in describing the literature available on autism, sensory integration and attachment theory. I was happy to see that she dispelled the myth that autistic children are the result of being brought up in an environment lacking emotional warmth. Instead, she mentioned new research that shows there is a neurobiological and sensory basis to autism. Also, she points out that a recent study shows that children with autism are able to form healthy attachments. The researcher also was thorough in describing the aim of her study and outlining her research questions. Often, in my experience, authors of research articles fail to put the aim of their study and research questions in clear terms. I appreciated that the researcher recruited another researcher to record observations in order to minimize bias. The researcher presented the findings with rich descriptions from the participants as well as entries from her journal and from the co-researcher.
The researcher states that a limitation of the study was the small number of participants and cannot be generalized. By choosing to conduct a qualitative study, a small sample size is justified. Case studies generally do not exceed a sample size of four or five cases (Creswell, 2007). A case study is a good approach when the inquirer seeks to provide an in-depth understanding of the cases (Creswell, 2007). I feel one of the limitations of the study was that only well-functioning individuals were selected. Perhaps different results would have arisen had the participants been lower functioning. I appreciate that notes on the contributor were included about the researcher and her background, however I would have liked to see something about the background of the co-researcher in this section to get a sense of the differences between them and how this may have informed the study.
This study contributes to knowledge in the field of body psychotherapy by using a somatic intervention with a population that experiences difficulty in communicating verbally. What is unique about this study is that it demonstrates a relationship between sensory processing and our ability to develop attachments and form relationships. As more research is conducted in this area, hopefully it will provide more evidence that somatic interventions provide a missing link that verbal therapies cannot regarding the brain and attachment.
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Reviewed by Sharon Stopforth
Sharon Stopforth, MSW, RSW has been a counselor for 15 years specializing in anxiety, depression, addiction, abuse and trauma. Sharon is a Certified Integrative Body Psychotherapy practitioner and is currently working on her Ph.D. to further research in the field of body psychotherapy.