Sensory Integration and Occupational Therapy
What is Sensory Integration (SI)?
We receive information about the world through our sensory systems. We are largely unaware of the processing of the sensory information as it happens on an unconscious level in our nervous system. We are familiar with the senses involved in taste, smell, sight and touch but most of us do not realise that our nervous system also senses movement, the force of gravity and body position (proprioception and vestibular). All sensory systems have receptors that pick up information to be perceived by the brain e.g. the eye detects visual information and sends it to the brain for interpretation. The nervous system sifts through the information and selects what to focus on giving meaning to what is experienced. This process allows us to act or respond to the situation we are experiencing in a purposeful manner known as an adaptive response. If the sensory integrative capacity meets the environmental demand, the child can respond in a creative, sufficient and satisfying manner.
Sensory Integration in the brain occurs via sensory modulation and sensory discrimination:
- Sensory modulation is the “ability of the nervous system to regulate, organise and prioritise incoming sensory information, inhibiting or suppressing irrelevant information and prioritising and helping the child focus on relevant information” (pg. 108). A child that is well modulated will be able to adapt to daily changes, has an appropriate level of arousal and attention in relation to the task, and attends to pertinent information and responds in a manner that is appropriate to the input.
- Sensory discrimination is the brain and body’s ability to accurately make sense of incoming sensory inputs. It is the ability to tell the difference between and among sensory stimuli. For example appropriate discrimination allows you to identify if you have been touched lightly, firmly, roughly etc. It lets you know whether what you’ve heard is soft, loud, close or far away.
Difficulties in sensory integration result in:
|Sensory modulation||Sensory discrimination|
· Inability to calm down
· Low or high activity levels
· Behaviour difficulties (fussy, poor sharing, poor self esteem, stubborn, controlling)
· Difficulty coping with changes (activities or routines)
· Aversion/sensitive to sensory inputs
· Problems with fine motor skills
· Difficulties coordinating body or planning tasks
· Language delays
· Poor sleeping patterns
· Seeking behaviour (auditory, tactile, movement, deep pressure, pain etc.
· body awareness
· tool handling
· planning abilities
· perceptual abilities
· knowing where I am in space
· organising self
How can Sensory Integration Therapy help my child?
In therapy, your child will be guided through activities that challenge his or her ability to respond appropriately to sensory information by making an organised, adaptive response. It often appears as if your child is only playing during therapy but this play is aimed at providing the necessary sensory input needed for your child’s individual needs. Play activities in therapy are aimed at involving the child in such a way that they make the necessary adaptive response thus improving their sensory integration. Training of specific skills is not usually the focus of therapy. Rather, a variety of activities will be used to develop the underlying abilities that enable a child to learn such skills efficiently. An important factor of SI therapy is that the interests and motivation of the child play a vital role in the selection of activities. It is vital that the child is an active participant in their development process.
- Kranowitz, C.S. (2005). The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder.
- Ayres, A.J. (2005). Sensory Integration and the Child. (25th ed).
- Kranowitz, C.S. (2005). The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognising and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder.