What is Sensory Integration?
Sensory integration is about the automatic process of taking all the information from our senses and organizing it in our brain so we can act in our world and do what we are meant to do.
It does many things:
- It is an unconscious process of the brain (occurs without us thinking about it – like breathing) that organizes the information detected by one’s senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch, smell, movement, gravity and position).
- It gives meaning to what is experienced by sifting through all the information and selecting what to focus on (such as listening to a teacher and ignoring the noise of outside traffic)
- It allows us to act or respond to the situation we are experiencing in a purposeful manner (known as an adaptive response.
- It forms the underlying foundation for academic learning and social behaviour.
(Ayres, J., revised 1995, p 5)
The sensory systems:
- Vestibular – movement and balance sense
- Tactile – Sense of touch
- Proprioception – Sense of where the body is when not looking
- Vision – What we see
- Olfactory – What we smell
- Gustatory – What we taste
- Auditory – What we hear
- Interoception – What our body tells us about our internal system such as pain, toilet needs and emotions
When sensory integration works well:
- It is an automatic process
- Consistent and reliable information is given to our brain.
- Information is effectively and interpreted
- We can build an accurate picture of our world and easily pay attention, listen, look, speak, move, learn, relate with others and act appropriately.
What can go wrong?
Sensory integration or processing difficulties occur when the information taken through the senses – eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste, proprioception (body awareness sense), interoception and vestibular (movement and balance sense) is not perceived or interpreted accurately.
- The nervous system is unable to process information either automatically or efficiently
- Children may become overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights or sounds (sensory defensiveness).
- Children may become under-reactive to sensory stimulation. This refers to a person who is generally unaware and either does not react to certain sensory input (low registration) or may seek out more sensory stimulation than most (sensory seeking).
- As a result of this, children are unable to get an accurate picture of their world and their behaviour and responses to different stimulation will be different to what you might expect.
- Children will often have problems with paying attention, behaviour, listening, looking, speaking, moving, learning or relating with others
There are several different types of sensory processing disorders, which are managed differently:
- Sensory modulation disorders including sensory defensiveness, low registration or dampened registration and sensory seeking.
- Movement based disorders including Vestibular/ visual/ auditory integration issues, Bilateral integration and Sequencing Disorders and Postural-occular issues (vestibular-proprioceptive).
- Sensory Discrimination based disorders including Praxis or planning disorders.
What approach does Kids Matters Occupational Therapy offer for Sensory Processing Difficulties?
- Full assessment of child’s individual differences in Sensory processing, reading, writing, spelling, learning, motor skills, play, organisation and planning etc.
- Sensory processing based treatments for any sensory processing issues. Note we have two qualified sensory integration therapists (Jill van Heerden and Michelle Cloete) and all other therapists work in a way that is informed by sensory processing models for treatment.
- Specific structured learning interventions as required including:
- fine motor skill remediation
- gross motor skill remediation
- visual motor integration
- play skills
4. Cognitive based interventions to help the child understand and regulate his or her arousal such as therapy based on “the Alert Program”, otherwise known as “How does your engine run”
5. DIR/Floor-time based treatments for deficits in the functional emotional developmental levels to help caregivers tailor their interactions and environments so as to provide the right level of sensory stimulation to a child.
Other Services that we have found to support sensory integration:
- Astronaut Program for low movement confidence/ fear of movement, lack of responsiveness to movement and for enhanced visual, auditory and vestibular integration – great for developing attention, coordination and movement confidence.
- Therapeutic listening for auditory defensiveness, decreased auditory responsiveness, improved attention and auditory, vestibular, postural and breath integration
- Sensory Diet or Lifestyle for calming and organizing the nervous system
- Alert Program to help understand arousal level and how to change it
- Wilbarger Therapressure protocol – for treating sensory defensiveness
- Parent and teacher education and training
Does my child have sensory integration problems?
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If you suspect sensory integration problems in your child (or teenagers or adults), help is possible!