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Special Topic Course: Sensory-Based Intervention Guideline for Preterm Infants in the NICU.

Speakers: Bobbi Pineda, PhD, OTR/L, CNT
Joan Smith, PhD, RN, NNP-BC

Topic: Sensory-Based Intervention Guideline for Preterm Infants in the NICU.

Course Description: The NICU environment can have deleterious effects on early brain structure and function. Although preterm infants are susceptible to negative and poorly timed external stimuli, they should be in utero and experiencing multidimensional sensory exposures, which drive early brain development. Instead, high-risk infants in the NICU are exposed to invasive and painful medical interventions and lack positive and consistent forms of sensory exposures, which are critical for optimizing development. Parenting an infant in the NICU is challenging, and many parents do not know how or when to engage with their infants. While the use of sensory exposures, such as skin-to-skin care and massage, have been related to better parent and infant outcomes, most interventions are implemented inconsistently and/or for short periods of time in the NICU.   To maximize the benefit of positive sensory exposures in the NICU, we have developed a structured sensory-based guideline titled “Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE)”, that includes specific doses and targeted timing (based on PMA) of interventions such as massage, auditory exposure, rocking, holding, and skin-to-skin care. The guideline was developed to optimize parent engagement and bolster mother-infant interaction while providing the infant with positive sensory exposures to improve developmental outcome. A rigorous process of protocol development included: an integrative review that outlined 88 articles on sensory-based interventions that were used with preterm infants to improve outcome, expert input from a multidisciplinary group of 108 health care professionals that defined sensory interventions implemented across different NICUs, 3 multidisciplinary focus groups that provided a critical review of the guideline, and interviews with 20 mothers of preterm infants who gave input on feasibility of implementing the SENSE guideline. In this presentation, we will share the specific sensory-based guideline with defined auditory, tactile, vestibular, kinesthetic, olfactory and multi-modal interventions for preterm infants in the NICU. A synthesis of the results is presented.

Speaker Bio: Bobbi Pineda, PhD, OTR/L, CNT Bobbi is an Assistant Professor at Washington University, where she engages in research related to optimizing outcomes of preterm infants in the NICU. She has more than 20 years of clinical experience and is certified as a trainer on the NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale and is trained in advanced methods of Prechtl’s General Movement Assessment and the Neonatal Oral Motor Assessment Scale.

She is the chair of the Neonatal Therapy National Certification Board and has been privileged to work alongside a talented multidisciplinary Board to develop and implement a certification process for neonatal therapy.

Joan Smith, PhD, RN, NNP-BC Dr. Smith has nearly 3 decades of neonatal nursing experience and has worked as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner since 1994. She is currently the Director of Clinical Quality, Safety and Practice Excellence at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. As a principal investigator, she has led multiple interdisciplinary teams with a focus on neurodevelopment, implementation science and patient quality and safety. Dr. Smith has spent the last 10 years collaborating with an interdisciplinary team of neonatal care providers in developing a national quality improvement collaborative infrastructure for neonates with rare and complex medical conditions referred to tertiary care NICUs. Over the past 6 years, Drs. Smith and Pineda have collaborated to examine appropriate neurodevelopmental sensory exposures for hospitalized very preterm infants.

0-10 min: Identifying the need for a sensory-based intervention guideline
10-20 min: Research that contributed to the development of the Supporting and Enhancing Sensory Experiences (SENSE) intervention
20-30 min: Parent education as a key implementation strategy
30-40 min: Doses of sensory exposures to guide parents in participating
40-51 min: Research to date on SENSE

Bobbi Pineda, PhD, OTR/L, CNT
Financial Disclosures: Receives salary and grants for conducting research at Washington University, Certified Trainer of NNNS, author of the Neonatal Eating Outcome Scale (copyright owned by Washington University), author of the Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) intervention (copyright owned by Washington University), owner of Preemie-Pacer LLC, and receives salary as speaker on neonatal therapy topics through Education Resources.
Nonfinancial disclosures: The Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) intervention copyright is owned by Washington University.  It has been made available for clinical and research purposes at cost through Washington University.

Joan Smith, PhD, RN, NNP-BC
Financial Disclosures: Author of the Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) intervention.
Nonfinancial disclosures: The Supporting and Enhancing NICU Sensory Experiences (SENSE) intervention copyright is owned by Washington University.  It has been made available for clinical and research purposes at cost through Washington University.

Conflict of Interest: There is no conflict of interest for anyone with the ability to control content for this activity.

Target Audience: OT, SLP, PT, RN, and Neonatal professionals

Level: Intermediate


  1. Define how early sensory experiences drive brain development.
  2. Describe the rigorous process of intervention development undertaken to develop the sensory-based guideline.
  3. Define the dose and timing of sensory-based interventions appropriate for preterm infants in the NICU across time.

Instructional Method: Recorded webinar with handouts. Learning assessment and course evaluation follow course.

Course Completion Requirements: The learner must view the entire webinar, complete the course evaluation and complete the post webinar learning assessment with at least 80% to receive education credit. Login and logout times will be recorded and documented.
Following completion of this course physical therapists, nurses and other disciplines will receive a certificate of completion and a zip file containing information necessary to submit to their individual state for education credit. Zip file will include course bibliography. Physical therapists are responsible for knowing and adhering to their state’s deadlines, rules and regulations.

Registration information:

In order to obtain access to the course, click the “Register now” button at the bottom of the screen. You are required to be a NANT member in good standing to have access to this course. You may also purchase this courses as a non-member by clicking the “Buy Now” button at the bottom of the screen.

For ADA accommodations, please call NANT Customer Service for more information at (866) 999-5524.

Cancellation Policy: Click HERE to review NANT’s Course Cancellation Policy.


Continuing Education Information


AOTA CEUs: National Association of Neonatal Therapists® (NANT) is an AOTA Approved Provider of professional development. This Distance-Learning Independent Course is offered at 0.05 CEUs (Intermediate level, Occupational Therapy Service Delivery). AOTA does not endorse specific course content, products, or clinical procedures.

ASHA CEUs: Learners must complete the entire course in order to receive ASHA CEUs. No partial credit awarded. ASHA CE Provider approval and use of the Brand Block does not imply endorsement of course content, specific products or clinical procedures.
ASHA CE Registry users: NANT will submit your ASHA CEU credit to ASHA on your behalf. ASHA CEUs may take up to 100 days to appear on your ASHA Transcript.

Non-ASHA CE Registry users: Maintain your course records and please keep your registry status current in your NANT account. Update your NANT account with your ASHA number if your registry status changes. NANT is not responsible for tracking your registry usage.

PT CE Credit: This course is approved for 1.0 contact hour from the Ohio Physical Therapy Association (OPTA) for continuing education in Ohio.

NANT is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Physical Therapy as an approved provider of physical therapy and physical therapist assistant continuing education.

Questions regarding CE credit should be directed to the National Association of Neonatal Therapists at or (866) 999-5524.

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