Supporting Science

Sensory modalities are not separate modalities: plasticity and interactions

by Shinsuke Shimojo and Ladan Shams

Historically, perception has been viewed as a modular function, with the different sensory modalities operating independently of each other. Recent behavioral and brain imaging studies challenge this view, by suggesting that cross-modal interactions are the rule and not the exception in perception, and that the cortical pathways previously thought to be sensory-specific are modulated by signals from other modalities.

Cross-modal integration is performed on a vast level in the brain and contributes significantly to adaptive behavior in our daily life. Very little is known about how integration is achieved or its underlying neural mechanisms, however, because the overwhelming majority of studies on perception have focused on one sensory modality. Studying perception in an isolated single modality would be justifiable if different modalities processed sensory inputs independently of each other, as separate ‘modules’. But are sensory modalities really separate modules? A variety of evidence seems to counter this notion of modularity. In this review, we summarize the evidence for vigorous interaction among sensory modalities.

Plasticity across sensory modalities

Both animal and human studies suggest that sensory modalities in early stages of development are not as inherently distinct and independent as was previously once thought. For example, in a study of cross-modal plasticity Sur et al. removed the superior colliculus of both the ferret and the hamster on the day of birth by direct ablation. They also deprived the medial geniculate nucleus or the ventrobasal nucleus from their normal sensory input by sectioning the major input pathways. The retina then invaded these thalamic nuclei, which under ordinary circumstances relay auditory and somatosensory signals to the cortices, respectively. They found that visual responses (i.e. responses triggered by light stimulation on the retina) were elicited from neurons in the auditory or the somatosensory cortex.

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Optometric Phototherapy-Based Multi-Sensory Training Facilitates Reduction of Symptoms in Post-Concussion Syndrome

by Steven J. Curtis, O.D., FCOVD



The objective of this article is to present the effectiveness of a multi-sensory training method that utilizes optometric phototherapy, oculomotor therapy, vestibular stimulation, and auditory stimulation, on reducing the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. The setting is my neuro-optometric clinic.


The participants are 25 consecutive adult patients presenting to the clinic with post-concussion syndrome. The design is a comparison of symptoms and objective tests one week before and one week after treatment. The main measures are an acquired brain injury symptom survey, visual evoked potential, and Test of Information Processing Skills


84% of patients reported improvement in a majority of their PCS symptoms; the patient group exhibited an average visual evoked potential (VEP) increase of 35% in low contrast amplitude; the patient group demonstrated an average increase in visual processing of 60%; auditory processing increased an average of 27%; delayed recall improved an average of 206%; all results were measured after an average treatment period of 38 days.


Multi-sensory training utilizing optometric phototherapy, oculomotor therapy, vestibular stimulation, and auditory stimulation provides most post-concussion syndrome patients significant reduction in symptoms in a relatively short period of time. These patients were not making further appreciable progress in recovery prior to this treatment... experiencing a plateau. In addition to subjective improvements, patients also demonstrated significant improvement in objective testing.

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Study Shows Combination Of Sight And Sound Helps Adults Learn Basic Visual Tasks More Rapidly

Source: Boston University

Researchers from Boston University (BU) and UCLA have found that using multi-sensory training programs, a research technique that engages more than one of the senses, helps adults improve their performance of low-level perceptual tasks – such as visually detecting the motion of an object – significantly faster than methods that use only one stimulus.

The study, published in the July 25th issue of the journal Current Biology, demonstrates that using stimuli that involve both vision and hearing can be combined to produce speedier learning of visual information and suggest that multi-sensory training programs may be more effective for adults learning new skills – such as discriminating differences between highly similar objects, or finding an item in cluttered scene.

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Why multisensory integrative therapy should be successful in addressing problems across a broad spectrum associated with developmental delays.

by Selwyn Super D.Optom., Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Southern California

(Paper submitted to Acta Psychologica for publication) May, 2005 Copy presented to the participants of The AOTA conference, Long Beach, CA with the compliments of the Sensory Learning Institute.


This paper examines the reasons why multisensory integration is thought to develop, and what research has been done to justify proposed models of this development. This forms a logical backdrop to analyze anecdotal evidence that multisensory integration therapy is effective in resolving a wide spectrum of developmental delays and neurological (software) disorders. Some kinds of sensory integration therapy have been shown to have beneficial effects over extended periods of time, when administered by occupational, physical, psychological, speech and vision therapists. Other kinds of therapy, such as the Sensory Learning Program devised by Mary Bolles, have been shown to have beneficial and lasting effects in 30 days or less. Irrespective of the time it takes to achieve these results, a rationale and a scientific explanation are called for to determine what the therapy does to alter brain structure, function and behavior in a positive manner. Also salient is that this same type of therapy proves effective irrespective of the age of the client, and across a wide spectrum of chronic developmental delays, brain injury, and behavioral disorders. Sensory integration therapy is expected to accelerate the time taken to develop expected milestones that are manifestly delayed. The effectiveness of treatment is dependent, therefore, on what structures, functions and behaviors are already developed and in place, and can be adjusted and built upon to produce healthy development. Of critical importance in understanding normal development and developmental delays is an appreciation of what are known as inner perceptual systems that drive structural, functional and behavioral processes. The key to this is the inbuilt life driving forces that combine their inner and outer energy sources in the processes of maturation, experience, communicating transmission and self-regulation. Human beings with their 23 pairs of chromosomes inherit some 40,000 genes from 4 bases that provide the proteins and 20 amino acids that constitute the building material and the building blocks to create our molecular makeup. Every molecule has its own energy potential and ability to trap energy to carry out its specific function. The energy required for this process comes from the elements, oxygen, water, and food, and from sunlight and other electromagnetic radiation to provide for cellular work and chemical synthesis. Outer and inner forces, in combination, operate to provide for self-assembly, self replication and are subject to life sustaining forms that are fit to survive. The human organism relies on the external physical environment to develop the brain and body's sensory and motor systems and the organs and mechanisms for breathing, blood and other circulation, filtration, and for digestion.

Why multisensory integrative therapy should be successful in addressing problems across a broad spectrum associated with developmental delays.

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Stimulate Your Brain - An Introduction to Sensory Learning

Mary Bolles founded the Sensory Learning Institute International, Inc. in 1997 and has since been a pioneer in the field. Her phenomenal work has since been continued to this day by her daughter, Julie Stoots.

This video features Julie Stoots and it covers important information about how the different parts of the brain interact with each other to share information and give you a sense of space. It explains how sensory learning can help you to recover more completely from brain trauma.

Learn more about Sensory Learning at

An Interview with Mary VanHoy

Dr. Mary VanHoy, was recently interviewed by Alix Litwack, of Good Earth Radio in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. VanHoy has a neuro-optometric practice in Indiana which celebrates its forty-fifth year this September.

In Seattle, her clinic is limited solely to the Sensory Learning Program with co-management with her Seattle area optometric colleagues.

It is our hope that this interview will allow prospective clients and health care providers to learn directly from Dr. VanHoy about the features and benefits of the Sensory Learning Program, who can benefit, what ages, and what kinds of challenges respond to the Sensory Learning Program.

The Amazing Progress of Aylah

Mary VanHoy worked with Aylah, who made a remarkable progress after only 12 sessions of the Sensory Learning Program.

Example of a child diagnosed with autistic spectrum behavior with an IQ of 63 who after only the first phase of the Sensory Learning Program (12 consecutive days in-office) draws her conception of the brain! Simply amazing! While she is not fully back on board yet, she is now so much better able to respond to her other therapies because the SLP training helps organize her sensory system and allows for a much more stable foundation for brain function!