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Randomized clinical trial investigating the effect of consistent, developmentally-appropriate, and evidence-based multisensory exposures in the NICU



Evaluate the effect of a manualized multisensory program, applied across NICU hospitalization, on infant and parent outcomes.

Study design

Seventy parent-infant dyads (born ≤32 weeks gestation) in a Level IV NICU were randomized at birth to the multisensory program or standard-of-care. Parents in the multisensory group administered prespecified amounts of age-appropriate, evidence-based sensory interventions to their infants each day during NICU hospitalization according to the Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) program.


Infants who received the SENSE program had more lethargy on the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) (p = 0.05), even after controlling for medical and social risk (p = 0.043), and had higher Communication scores on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (p = 0.04) at 1-year corrected age, but this relationship failed to reach significance after controlling for medical and social risk (p = 0.12).


The SENSE program shows promise for improving outcomes, but more research with larger sample sizes is needed.

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Fig. 1: Participant flow diagram.


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We wish to thank Kristen Connell, Tiffany Le, Christa Thompson, Marinthea Richter, Prutha Saptute, Mary Raney, Elizabeth Heiny Wedell, Anna Bukhstaber, Mary Politi, F. Sessions Cole, Elizabeth Kruvand, Aimee James, Allison King, Lily Hu, Bradley Schlaggar, and Carolyn Baum. We thank all the members of the sensory support team. We also wish to thank all the infants and families who made this research possible.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences grant UL1TR002345 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Institute of Health, and the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center at Washington University (NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development P30 HD062171).

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Correspondence to Roberta Pineda.

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RP and JS are authors of the SENSE program. The SENSE program is owned by the Washington University Office of Technology Management and is available to clinicians and researchers ‘at cost’ through exclusive distribution rights at University of Southern California. The authors receive no financial gain from purchases of the SENSE program.

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Pineda, R., Smith, J., Roussin, J. et al. Randomized clinical trial investigating the effect of consistent, developmentally-appropriate, and evidence-based multisensory exposures in the NICU. J Perinatol 41, 2449–2462 (2021).

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