Saturday, February 9, 2013

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory Integration is an automatic neurological process. The brain receives sensory information from one’s senses and the environment and makes appropriate adaptive responses. These senses include the 5 that we aware of, along with 2 internal senses of body position (proprioception) and movement (vestibular). Sensory integration theory and intervention is based on categorizing these seven neuro sensory systems and their relationship to one another, as stated by Dr. A. Jean Ayres, who coined the term, Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

When children have adequate sensory processing, they make unconscious adaptations constantly throughout their day. Their responses to various stimuli go unnoticed because their brains make quick responses. For example, by this time in the year, the children know their routine walking into school in the morning. Their responses to walking into the building and their classrooms are familiar and automatic. They have an internal map of their morning. Now, if there is a substitute in the classroom or if they were to go to a different classroom in the morning, their responses would not be automatic. However, they would quickly adjust, and move on with their day. A child with disintegrated sensory systems may not adapt to their new routine so quickly and may remain in a fight or flight response for a lengthy amount of time. This may be exhibited in tearfulness, a tantrum or a complete shutdown, ruining a part or their entire school day.

Now think of yourself sitting in a class or lecture. Some people can sit and focus without a problem. Some, however, would need an array of sensory tools in front of them to help maintain their focus. These compensatory strategies may include; chewing gum, a lollipop, chai and/or water! Sitting on a therapy ball also works well as a nice tool to increase posture and alertness. You may not have realized that you already provide yourself with sensory input as needed to increase your focus during lectures or classes.

In conclusion, some children do not have adequate sensory processing and are unable to make appropriate, adaptive responses. They have difficulty interpreting one, a few, or all of their senses. Again, these senses include the 5 that we are aware of: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. The other 2, internal senses, are comprised of our vestibular sense or system (provides information regarding sense of movement, gravity and position in space) and proprioception (muscle and joint sense and allows us to know where our bodies are in space). These children exhibit Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

When children have Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Dysfunction, it may result in challenges with motor planning, social/emotional difficulties or behavioral patterns. These issues can therefore impact speech and language, attention/concentration, and motor output for varying activities (getting dressed, organizing school work, participating in PE, for examples).

Please check back each day beginning February 18th for Sensory Week on This 7-day blogger will provide a more in-depth look into Sensory Integration. Each day a new post will focus on a specific sensory system and also provide activities to target that system. 

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