WHAT IS SENSORY INTEGRATION?
We take in and experience sensory information from the environment every minute of our day, and we use this information to produce a reaction. Our brains take in this information, and must be able to organize it, process it and use it in order for us to respond appropriately to a particular situation. It is the organization of all of this sensory information that is termed sensory integration. The sensory information that we receive includes auditory, tactile, visual, olfactory, vestibular and proprioceptive information. The vestibular and proprioceptive senses are the less known and obvious of the senses, and they are responsible for sense of movement and sense of body position in space, respectively.
WHAT IS SENSORY INTEGRATION DYSFUCTION AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
When sensory information (that we take in from our environment) is not being efficiently organized and processed in our brains, what results is called sensory integration dysfunction. An underdeveloped nervous system causes inefficient processing of sensory information, and this can often be seen in children who were born prematurely, or have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder or ADHD, among other reasons.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD MAY HAVE SENSORY INTEGRATION DYSFUNCTION?
Sensory integration dysfunction can be presented in a few different ways, and can be placed in three general categories: Sensory Modulation Disorder, Sensory-Based Motor Disorder and Sensory Discrimination Disorder.
Sensory Modulation Disorder
Sensory Modulation Disorder is a problem with responding appropriately to sensory information in a way that matches the nature and intensity of the sensory information. A child can be over-responsive (respond more intensely, quickly and for a longer time to sensory input than typical children- ex. can’t tolerate tags on clothing), under-responsive (exhibit less of a response to sensory input than the situation demands, or take longer to react) or sensory seeking (crave and actively seek out sensory experiences, often in socially unacceptable ways.)
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder is a problem with stabilizing, moving, or planning a series of movements in response to sensory demands (a child may have difficulty with coordination and control of their bodies, as this is a dysfunction of the proprioceptive and vestibular senses).
Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Sensory Discrimination Disorder is a problem with sensing similarities and differences between sensations. These children may have a difficult time zipping their jacket without looking, or have difficulty distinguishing between a written p or q, for example.
When children are unable to process sensory information efficiently, it can affect them in many different ways, including their ability to regulate their emotions, their social skills, speech and academic skills, and fine and gross motor skills.
HOW CAN I HELP TREAT SENSORY INTEGRATION DYSFUNCTION?
Occupational therapists are trained in using a sensory integrative approach and guide children through activities that challenge their ability to respond appropriately to sensory input. Throughout therapy, they gradually increase the demands upon your child to make mature responses as they progress. An occupational therapist will also often send home a “sensory diet” which is an exercise program with ideas for sensory-rich activities to participate in outside of therapy, in order to help the child make better progress. Occupational therapy is fun for children, as therapists engage them in play activities that are particularly motivating to them, and it is a positive growth experience that children often look forward to.