Multisensory processes permit combinations of several inputs, coming from different sensory systems, allowing for a coherent representation of biological events and facilitating adaptation to environment. For these reasons, their application in neurological and neuropsychological rehabilitation has been enhanced in the last decades. Recent studies on animals and human models have indicated that, on one hand multisensory integration matures gradually during post-natal life and development is closely linked to environment and experience and, on the other hand, that modality-specific information seems to do not benefit by redundancy across multiple sense modalities and is more readily perceived in unimodal than in multimodal stimulation. In this review, multisensory process development is analyzed, highlighting clinical effects in animal and human models of its manipulation for rehabilitation of sensory disorders. In addition, new methods of early intervention based on multisensory-based rehabilitation approach and their applications on different infant populations at risk of neurodevelopmental disabilities are discussed.
Human capacity to use different senses and combine different sources of information is key to understanding surrounding environment and gradually initiate adaptive behaviors. This synergy produces a percept whose reliability is much greater than a sum of information coming from different sensory channels and it is also a powerful asset in signal disambiguation, including human speech and animal communication. Facilitation of these competences has a large adaptive value and it is present in all extant species. The expression “Multisensory Integration” (MI) describes this neurobiological process, “by which information from different sensory systems is combined to enhance and accelerate detection, localization, and reaction to biologically significant events” (Stein et al., 2009).
This review aims to: (1) examine developmental trajectories of multisensory processes both in animal and human models; (2) highlight effects of a multisensory-based rehabilitation approach in adults and children with visual disorders; and (3) explore the potential effect of multisensory-based rehabilitation approach in the context of early intervention in children with some neurodevelopmental disabilities.