Sensory Integration: The Concept

All of the information we receive about the world comes to us through our sensory systems. Because many sensory processes take place within the nervous system at an unconscious level, we are not usually aware of them. Although we are all familiar with the senses involved in taste, smell, sight, and sound, most of us do not realize that our nervous systems also sense touch, movement, force of gravity, and body position. Just as the eyes detect visual information and relay it on to the brain for interpretation; all sensory systems have receptors that pick up information to be perceived by the brain. Cells within the skin send information about light, touch, pain, temperature, and pressure. Structures within the inner eat detect movement and changes in the position of the head. Components of muscles, joints, and tendons provide and awareness of body position.

Sensory Integrative Disorder
For most children, sensory integration develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities. Motor planning ability is a natural outcome of the process, as is the ability to respond to incoming sensation in an adaptive manner. But for some children, sensory integration is disordered, a number of problems in learning, development, or behavior may become evident.

Signs of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction

  • Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
  • Under-reactive to sensory stimulation
  • Activity level that is unusually high or low
  • Coordination problems
  • Delays in speech, language, motor skills, or academic achievement
  • Poor organization of behavior
  • Poor self concept

Evaluation: The Next Step
If you suspect that your child fits this picture, an evaluation can be conducted by a qualified occupational or physical therapist. Results of the evaluation will indicate whether or not a sensory integrative disorder is present, and will provide you with a profile of your child’s sensory processing abilities in a number of areas.

Evaluation consists of both standardized testing and structured observations of responses to sensory stimulation, posture, balance, coordination, and eye movements. The occupational or physical therapist who conducts testing may also informally observe spontaneous play, and may ask you to provide information about your child’s development and typical behavior patterns. A thorough evaluation usually requires about 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Following the evaluation, you will a report and interpretation of the scores.

How Therapy Works
In therapy, your child will be guided through activities that challenge his or her ability to respond appropriately to sensory input by making a successful, organized response. Therapy will involve activities that provide vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile stimulation, and are designed to meet your child’s specific needs for development. The activities will also be designed to gradually increase the demands upon your child to make an organized, more mature response. Emphasis is placed on automatic sensory processes in the course of a goal-directed activity, rather than instructing or drilling the child on how to respond.

Training of specific skills is not usually the focus of this kind of therapy. One important aspect of therapy that uses a sensory integrative approach is that the motivation of the child plays a crucial role in the selection of the activities.


Why Children Like Therapy
Therapy using sensory integrative procedures in almost always fun for the child.

What to Expect from Therapy
When a sensory integrative approach to therapy is successful, the child is able to automatically process complex sensory information in a more effective manner than previously. This can have a number of important payoffs. An improvement in motor coordination may be documented by the child’s ability to perform gross and fine motor tasks with greater skill and at a higher level of complexity than would be expected with no intervention. Some children will demonstrate gains in language development, while others will improve significantly in school achievement as their nervous systems begin to function more efficiently. Very often, parents report that their child seems to be better “put together,” more self-assured, better organized and easier to live with.

If your child has been diagnosed with and Sensory Integration Disorder or has some of the signs listed above please go to our HOW TO GET STARTED PAGE to see how we can help you.


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