What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory Integration refers to the brain's ability to absorb process and organize the  input it receives from our senses. The brain integrates the input together to make sense of the people and physical objects around us and how our body relates to our environment. One needs to be able to appropriately input and interpret specific information from each sensory system for body organization and regulation, motor planning, academic learning and social/emotional interactions. We typically think of five senses; vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. These senses give us information about the world around us and how we are interacting with our environment.

There are also internal senses which give us feedback about our bodies: Proprioception- sensory receptors are located in the joints and tell us about the position of different parts of our body.

Vestibular - sensory receptors are located in the inner ear and tell us about how are bodies are moving in space and in relation to gravity.


Dysfunction of Sensory Integration (DSI)

For most of us, sensory integration occurs without conscious thought or effort. Since our brain uses information about sights, touch, movement, sound and smell in an organized way, we assign meaning to our sensory experiences and behave accordingly. For some children, sensory integration does not develop smoothly; their brain is unable to accurately process information coming from their senses.

Messages can be over amplified, thereby making the person hypersensitive to that input. A  "normal" amount of input becomes overwhelming and upsetting. For example, a clock ticking in the classroom can sound  as loud as a hammer banging sounds or the feel of a loving hug, can feel as threatening as an assault.

Messages to the brain can also be diminished, requiring exaggerated stimulation to elicit a response, as normal levels of stimulation elicit limited or no response. This child may need rough and tumble play to get a sense of his own body or distinct sounds to catch his attention as others do not even register.

Often, children can be hypersensitive to some sensory input, while hyposensitive to other sensory input.  The intensity of the disability can range from mild to severe.

Since these children (or adults) can not rely on their sensory systems to give them an accurate picture of the world, they don't know how to behave in response. Children may appear hyperactive, oppositional, easily distracted, clumsy, obsessive-compulsive, or anxious, when in fact they are just reacting to and compensating for their unreliable and unpredictable view of the world. If a child feels threatened by light touch, he may be unable to listen to his teacher because he is on the look out for someone walking by who may accidentally brush him. If one can't feel where his body is positioned, he may have a hard time learning to play soccer and skate. If a child is overwhelmed by smells or sounds, she may not be able to interact with peers in the school cafeteria.


Who needs Sensory Integration OT?

Sensory integration treatment may be beneficial for infants, children, adolescents and adults who present with the following difficulties or disorders:

•  Autism Spectrum Disorder

•  Attention Deficit Disorder

•  Aspergers Syndrome

•  decreased attention

•  learning disabilities/differences

•  Developmental Coordination Disorder

•  Developmental Delays

•  brain injury

•  stress related disorders

• struggles with written output

•  gross and fine motor delays


Results/What to expect?

The outcomes of occupational therapy can be dramatic. It can help boost children's confidence and self esteem and decrease their sensory sensitivities. Children show significant improvements in motor planning and motor skills, frustration tolerance, transitions, regulation of mood and affect, processing, and attention. Many children perform better in school, both socially and academically following treatment. But most importantly, parents (and children depending on their age) learn to appreciate their child's needs, and are provided with the tools and resources to help them for a life time.


Origin of Sensory Integration Theory:

Sensory Integration theory is based on the studies of Dr. A. Jean Ayres, Occupational Therapist and pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Southern California . She described this process in the 1950's and was the pioneer of SI research. Since that time, much work has been done by Dr. Ayres and others, to understand the process and to develop treatment methods to help children and adults who experience problems in this area.