Michael Leon

Professor, Neurobiology and Behavior
School of Biological Sciences

Center for Autism Research and Translation

Associate Dean
School of Biological Sciences

Ph.D., University of Chicago

Phone: (949) 824-5343
Fax: (949) 824-2447
Email: mleon@uci.edu

University of California, Irvine
2205 McGaugh Hall
Mail Code: 4550
Irvine, CA 92697

picture of Michael  Leon

Sensory Enrichment Therapy for Autism
URL Autism Clinical Trials Program
2007 Professor of the Year, UCI
2011 Medical Technology Acceleration Award, Jacobs School of Engineering, UCSD
2014 W.G. Marquis Award, American Psychological Association
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is expressed as a social-behavioral imbalance that often involves communication difficulties, maladaptive behaviors, cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, motor (movement) problems, seizures, and gastrointestinal distress. Commonly, individuals with ASD experience some form of atypical sensory responsiveness, including sensory over-sensitivity, sensory unresponsiveness, or sensory-seeking behaviors.

In animal models of autism, increases in both sensory stimulation and motor activity have been shown to result in many benefits, including improvements in learning and memory, reduction in aggressive behavior, decreased anxiety, and reduction of repetitive behaviors.

We have translated this approach to humans, and we have been studying the benefits of increased sensory-motor activity in children with ASD. In a clinical trial, we examined the effects of sensory-motor enrichment in children with ASD, age 3-12, and found that 42% of the children receiving the sensory-motor enrichment had a clinically significant improvement on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). In addition, statistically significant improvements in cognition were observed in the sensory-motor enrichment group compared to the control group. Finally, 69% of parents in the sensory-motor enrichment group and 31% of parents in the control group reported improvement in their child over the 6-month study (2015).

In a second randomized clinical trial, Sensory Enrichment Therapy was again used to treat 3-6 year-old children with classic autism, Woo, Donnelly, Steinberg-Epstein & Leon (2015) again found significant improvements in the cognitive scores of enriched children using the Leiter-R, with enriched children gaining 8.42 IQ points, while the standard-care group gained 1.53 IQ points over 6 months, a statistically significant difference. A significant improvement for the enriched children was also found in receptive language, using the Reynell Developmental Language Scales, another objective test of symptom improvement. Enriched children gained 7.42 points on the receptive language scale, whereas the standard-care group had an average increase of 3.63 points on that assessment.
Publications Woo, C.C., Donnelly, J.H., Steinberg-Epstein, R., & Leon, M. (2015). Environmental enrichment as a therapy for autism: A clinical trial replication and extension. Behavioral Neuroscience, 129, 412-422.
  Woo, C.C. and Leon, M. Environmental enrichment as an effective treatment for autism: A randomized controlled trial. Behavioral Neuroscience, 2013, published online.
  Johnson, B.A., Ong, J., and Leon, M. Glomerular activity patterns evoked by natural odor objects in the rat olfactory bulb are related to patterns evoked by major odorant components. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2010, 518, 1542–1555.
  Leon, M. and Johnson, B.A. Is there a space-time continuum in olfaction? Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2009, 66, 2135-2150.
  Johnson, B.A., and Leon, M. Glomerular map. Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. (Binder, M.D., Hirokawa, N., and Windhorst, U., Eds.) Springer-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg, 2009, 1745-1748.
  Johnson, B.A., Xu, Z., Ali, S.S., and Leon, M. Spatial representations of odorants in olfactory bulbs of rats and mice: Similarities and differences in chemotopic organization. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2009, 514, 658-673.
  Johnson, B.A. and Leon, M. Chemotopic odorant coding in a mammalian olfactory system. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2007, 503, 1-34.
  Johnson, B.A., Arguello, S., and Leon, M. Odorants with multiple oxygen-containing functional groups and other odorants with high water solubility preferentially activate posterior olfactory bulb glomeruli. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2007, 502, 468-482.
  Johnson, B.A. and Leon, M. Understanding olfactory coding via an analysis of odorant-evoked glomerular response maps. The Senses: A Comprehensive Reference, Olfaction and Taste, S. Firestein, G. K. Beauchamp, Eds. Elsevier, 2008, 719-723.
  Cleland, T., Johnson, B.A., Leon, M., and Linster, C. Relational representation in the olfactory system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 2007, 104, 1953-1958
  Johnson, B.A., Woo, C., Zeng, Y., Hingco, E.E., Ong, J., and Leon, M. Prolonged stimulus exposure reveals prolonged neurobehavioral response patterns. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2010, 518, 1617-1629.
  Johnson, B., Woo, C,C. and Leon, M. Spatial coding of odorant features in the glomerular layer of the rat olfactory bulb. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 1998, 393, 457-471.
  Johnson, B.A., Woo, C.C., Hingco, E.E., Pham, K.L. and Leon, M. Multidimensional chemotopic responses to n-aliphatic acid odorants in the rat olfactory bulb. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 1999, 409, 529-548.
  Johnson, B.A. and Leon, Modular glomerular representations of odorants in the rat olfactory bulb and the effects of stimulus concentration. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2000, 422, 496-509.
  Johnson, B. A. and Leon, M. Odorant molecular length: One aspect of the olfactory code. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 2000, 426, 330-338
  Johnson BA, Farahbod H, Saber S, Leon M. Effects of functional group position on spatial representations of aliphatic odorants in the rat olfactory bulb. J Comp Neurol. 2005, 483:192-204.
  Johnson BA, Farahbod H, Leon M. Interactions between odorant functional group and hydrocarbon structure influence activity in glomerular response modules in the rat olfactory bulb. J Comp Neurol. 2005, 483:205-216.
  Johnson BA, Farahbod H, Xu Z, Saber S, Leon M. Local and global chemotopic organization: general features of the glomerular representations of aliphatic odorants differing in carbon number. J Comp Neurol. 2004, 6:234-249.

Graduate Programs Neurobiology and Behavior

Research Centers Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
Center for Autism Research and Translation
Link to this profile http://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=2146
Last updated 02/10/2016