Sensory Integration

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration (sensory processing) refers to skills and performance in developing and co-ordinating sensory input, motor control and sensory feedback in a smooth and controlled process, for use in behavioural responses. More specifically, sensory integration is the organisation of sensory input for use in interpreting information about the body and its surroundings. The majority of children receive sensory signals in the normal way, but their brains are unable to organise the information. Some children may be over (hyper-) sensitive and avoid input, whilst others may be under (hypo-) sensitive and seek input.

Sensory integration therapy aims to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of processing and co-ordinating sensory information input from tactile (touch), vestibular (movement sense), proprioceptive (body position sense), visual (sight), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) systems.

Through sensory integration, many parts of the brain work together so that a person can interact with the environment effectively and experience appropriate achievement in daily activities. Sensory integration therapy provides controlled sensory input with the goal of increased adaptive behaviours/responses. A strong basis in sensory integration enhances development of higher level gross and fine motor skills. It also contributes to better self-esteem, self-control and improved attention span.

Each child is unique in strengths, interests, deficits, and degrees to which deficits manifest themselves. Different treatment approaches address different deficit areas and different needs. Behaviours are, in many cases, involuntary and are reactions to the child’s internal and external environments and their ability to sort out this information. Sensory information is constantly entering the brain from all seven senses, and responses are inter-related. The therapy is designed specifically for the child’s needs, and according to their abilities, and involves intensive physical and mental exercises.

Sensory integration therapy

Sensory intergration therapy may tone down sensitivity, or stimulate responses accordingly. The brain’s plasticity can develop new neural pathways as a result of the repetition of exercises used to overcome sensitivities. Responses to light, sound, smells, co-ordination and balance, and new motor sequences may be learned.

Equipment for gross and fine motor skills may include vibrationThrough sensory integration, many parts of the brain work together so that a person can interact with the environment effectively and experience appropriate achievement in daily activities. Sensory integration therapy provides controlled sensory input with the goal of increased adaptive behaviours/responses. A strong basis in sensory integration enhances development of higher level gross and fine motor skills. It also contributes to better self-esteem, self-control and improved attention span.

Each child is unique in strengths, interests, deficits, and degrees to which deficits manifest themselves. Different treatment approaches address different deficit areas and different needs. Behaviours are, in many cases, involuntary and are reactions to the child’s internal and external environments and their ability to sort out this information. Sensory information is constantly entering the brain from all seven senses, and responses are inter-related. The therapy is designed specifically for the child’s needs, and according to their abilities, and involves intensive physical and mental exercises.

Individual exercise are designed to train child to filter out sensitivity to clothing by working with different textures, or to tolerate being touched by another person, both of which are problems with some children with autism. For example, a child with dyspraxia may have difficulty with balance and movement co- ordination, and will be trained using therapy balls, wobble boards, swings and other similar equipment. The therapy aims to build self-confidence by improving social skills and emotional adjustment.

Specific problems

Children with sensory integrative dysfunctions may appear clumsy or disruptive despite normal family nurturing, because they cannot consciously control their motor skills or attention responses. They may appear to be slow to learn with limited activity. They may be passive, or over-aroused, demanding or hyperactive. Training may involve slowing down or speeding up responses to resolve the confusion within the brain. This has nothing to do with intelligence, which may be normal or above average. Oversensitivity to sound requires training to filter out intrusive noises, and speech and language work uses many techniques, including singing and visual aids, to stimulate co-ordination of functions.

Signs of sensory dysfunction include:

  • Physical clumsiness
  • Difficulty learning new movements
  • Activity level unusually high or low
  • Poor body awareness
  • Inappropriate response to touch, movements, sights or sounds
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Social and/or emotional difficulties
  • Distractibility, impulsivity, limited attention control
  • Delays in speech, language and/or motor skills
  • Specific learning difficulties and/or perceptual difficulties
  • Poor self-care skills
  • Aversion to some foods/poor nutrition.