Skip to Main Content

Occupational Therapy

Sensory integration refers to how an individual interprets, regulates and uses the information provided by all the sensations coming from within the body and from the external environment. We usually think of the basic five senses (visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory and taste) as the primary means for receiving important information. Less well known are two other very important sensory feedback systems - the vestibular (processing information about movement, gravity and balance) and proprioceptive (processing information about body position as it relates to posture, space,etc). All of these sensory systems actually work together to give us a reliable picture of the world and our interaction with it.

Your senses integrate to form a complete understanding of who you are, where you are, and what is happening around you. Because your brain uses information about sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes, posture and movement in an organized way, you assign meaning to your sensory experiences, and you know how to respond & regulate your reactions and information accordingly.  For most of us, sensory integration occurs without conscious thought or effort. For others, sensory integration is disorganized and happens inefficiently, as in the case of sensory processing disorder.

Children with SI issues have great difficulty regulating and adapting to sensory information within and outside their bodies, and there's no guarantee that the sensory information they're working with is accurate. Because of the regulation and modulatory imbalances, high and low thresholds and tolerances may be exhibited. In response, a child may avoid confusing or distressing sensations – or seek out more of the sensation to find out more about it. For example, a child with a low threshold for tactile input (tactile hypersensitivity) may avoid unpleasant touch experiences such as getting his hands messy with paint, sand, or glue, while another child with a high threshold may crave and seek out such touch input.

Another area where sensory processing disorder is demonstrated is in the vestibular and proprioceptive system responsible for interpreting movement through space and posture. A child with a high threshold for vestibular input may have trouble sitting still and attending in an active alert state for very long. They seek movement and love spinning round and round without much response or without a feeling of dizziness. A child with low sensitivity to movement will demonstrate gravitational insecurity and will fuss at the site of a swing or at being picked up or swung through the air unexpectedly.

These regulation and modulation sensory processing issues make daily activities such as, playing, learning, creating, social connections and friendships, and moving smoothly though transitions much more challenging for these children. During sensory integration therapy each child’s system is assessed and a tailored individual therapy program is designed to help the brain reorganize its interpretation and response to the sensory world! Click here for more information about sensory integration.