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What is Sensory Integration?

Updated: Oct 4, 2018

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory Integration/Sensory processing is a term that refers to the way that the brain receives messages from the senses (hearing, vision, touch, smell, taste, movement and body position) and turns them into appropriate motor and  behavioural responses. This influences our arousal level (alertness and attention) which needs to be at an optimum level for children to be able to listen, look, learn and respond appropriately to all situations.

The 8 senses

At school, we are taught the five most common senses; hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell.  With sensory integration, three other senses play a part.  These include:

Proprioception–Proprioception refers to the body awareness of itself. The ability to judge timing, grade force, tells us where our body is in space or in relation to people and objects in the environment. This input can be very calming and settling and we use this in input in every daily life- we swaddle babies, we give firm hugs, or go for a run to help feel calm. This proprioceptive input can help us to become alert, reduce anxiousness and help us feel secure. Difficulties processing proprioception input from muscles and joints will affect the ability to develop a good body scheme, coordinated movements as well as the ability to maintain a calm, alert arousal level.

Vestibular–Is the sense of balance, orientation and movement.  It has receptors in the inner ear, which registers where gravity is coming from, and in what direction our head is moving. Difficulties processing or regulating vestibular input has a direct effect on postural responses, muscle tone, attention/arousal level, self-regulation, gross motor skill performance, and motor planning (praxis). Children who do not process vestibular appropriate frequently seek the movement to help maintain their arousal level. 

Interoception-This sense tells our brain what is happening on the inside of our body.  One example is when we have eaten too much.

Problems through sensory integration

Sensory Integration/ Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that exists when sensory signals do not get organised into appropriate responses. Children with sensory processing difficulties often have a hard time staying in a calm, alert state. They have difficulties with focusing and attending and can sometimes look withdrawn, or alternatively look “wild” or be constantly “on the go”. Their brain is not providing the correct signals or modulating sensory information appropriately.  Some children have problems concentrating on multiple senses at a time.  This can lead to different issues in a child.  They can include:

- frustration

- feeling of hopelessness

- academic issues

- extreme moods

How In Sync Kids Occupational Therapy can help a child’s sensory integration

One of our skilled Occupational Therapists can conduct tests to determine what senses need improving.  From these tests, an OT develops therapy for improving sensory skills so your child can reach their full potential.

A child may show signs of sensory integration issues through:

- coordination problems

- easily distracted

- overly sensitive to any of the senses

- becomes frustrated easily with simple tasks

- immature social skills

If your child is showing any of the signs above, contact us today for an assessment.

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