Sensory integration is a subconscious and automatic neurological process that occurs in every person at all stages of life. Our brains take in information through our senses and organise it so that we are able to respond appropriately to particular situations and environmental demands. Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body position, vision, smell, taste, sound and the pull of gravity.
For most people sensory integration develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities. When a person has good sensory integration then they are able to process information automatically and efficiently. But for some people, sensory integration does not develop as efficiently as it should and can affect activities of daily living, academic achievement, behaviour or social participation.
Children can present with different types of sensory integration difficulties (also known as sensory processing difficulties). These include:
Hyper (over) sensitive
- Fear of heights
- Dislike of touch experiences eg nail cutting, messy play, hair cutting
- Dislike of loud and sudden sounds
- Avoidance of playground equipment (swings and slides)
Hypo (under) sensitive
- Appears to have no fear or doesn’t feel pain
- Seeks movement or touch opportunities (fidgets, rocks, runs about, leans on peers)
- Mouths or chews things
- Poor attention to the environment or people around
Motor Planning (praxis)
- Appears clumsy
- Difficulty creating movement ideas
- Difficulty planning and executing new movements
- Slouches at desk
- Fidgets/difficulty sitting in one position for extended period of time
- Impact on fine motor coordination & ball skills
- Poor balance
Sensory integration provides occupational therapists with a framework for assessing and treating children who present with the difficulties outlined above.
Different ways an occupational therapist may use an sensory integration approach:
- Direct 1:1 therapy using specialised equipment
- Provision of a sensory diet and sensory based therapeutic activities for home and school (see ‘calming and alerting activity ideas’ information sheet - coming soon)
- Environmental adaptations at home and school (see ‘coping with classroom environment strategies’ information sheet - coming soon)
- Consultation & education with carers and school
For further information on sensory integration, please browse the resources below:
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