Occupational therapy for adults with intellectual disabilities and sensory processing challenges: a Delphi study exploring practice within acute assessment and treatment units

Helen Justice, David Haines, Jonathan Wright

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Purpose: Lack of research means guidance regarding the most effective sensory interventions for adults with intellectual disabilities is limited. Preliminary consensus evidence was created by gathering experienced occupational therapists’ views on practice. The purpose of this study was to establish important elements of practice when using sensory integration-informed approaches on assessment and treatment units. Design/methodology/approach: A modified Delphi process was used to gather, explore and synthesise the views of 13 occupational therapists. Data was collected via online surveys and included quantitative importance ratings and qualitative comments. Findings: An experienced panel was in strong agreement regarding many elements of practice they felt were important for use in this setting, and a list of important practice items was created. Two themes were identified: “Complexity” and “Pragmatism vs. Ideal World.” The themes highlight challenges to practice in this area and the complex clinical reasoning used to overcome these. Research limitations/implications: Participants disagreed about the level of importance of a substantial number of items, therefore items that did not reach consensus may still be important. Practical implications: This study indicates potentially helpful clinical tools, facilities and training and identifies support needed for occupational therapists working in these settings. Originality/value: This study contributes to the body of knowledge regarding how occupational therapists do and could work with people with intellectual disabilities and sensory integration difficulties. Although this study takes a UK and Ireland perspective, similar agendas regarding care and support for those with intellectual disabilities internationally mean findings are relevant more widely.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)28-35
    Number of pages8
    JournalIrish Journal of Occupational Therapy
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    Helen Justice was funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) MRes for this research project – grant reference CAT-MASTERS-2012-05-107. This publication presents independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

    This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence maybe seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/ by/4.0/legalcode


    • Assessment and treatment unit
    • Delphi
    • Inpatient
    • Intellectual disabilities
    • Learning disabilities
    • Occupational therapy
    • Sensory integration
    • Sensory processing


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