Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory systems in humans provide pathways for the brain to receive information through which it interprets the stimulus and implements a response


Why You Need Sensory Integration Therapy

The way in which the central and peripheral nervous systems manage incoming sensory information from visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular (balance and sense of movement), and proprioceptive (the sense of knowing position of one’s body and body parts in space) sensory systems is called sensory processing. It is important that the information of these different sensory modalities must be relatable. The process by which brain can relate all sensory input into a coherent percept, upon which our interaction with the environment is ultimately based, is called sensory integration. individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism seem to experience atypical patterns of processing sensory input and have difficulty responding to tasks and environmental demands (Dunn et al., 2002).

Sensory integration theory, which was derived primarily from the fields of medicine, neurology, and child development, attempts to explain relationship among neurologic processes and overt behaviors (Ayres, 1972b). Alma Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist with advance training in neuroscience and educational psychology, developed the Sensory Integration Theory to explain the relationship between the deficits in interpreting sensations from the body and from the environment and difficulties with academic and motor learning. The term sensory integration (SI) has been used to describe a neural process (occurring at cellular or nervous system level), a behavioral process (observable behaviors that result from these processes), and a frame of reference useful for assessment and intervention.


What do you mean Sensory Integration?

Ayres (1972a) defined sensory integration as “the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment”. Specifically it deals with how the brain processes multiple sensory modality inputs into usable functional outputs. Sensory integration is necessary for almost every activity that we perform because the combination of multiple sensory inputs is essential for us to comprehend our surroundings. Children who have difficulty integrating the continuous stream of sensory input and responding appropriately may also have difficulty with self-esteem, self-actualization, socialization, and play (Bundy et al, 2002).

Sensory Integration is the organization of sensation for use so that we can respond. We are bombarded by millions of sensation daily (2 million bits per sec). Sensory integration is the ability to take in, sort out, and connect information, so our bodies are able to respond in an adaptive manner. Sensations are the food for the brain. If we don’t get sensation we make up the information. As we are bombarded with all this sensory data we need to

  • Alert – attend or orient to new and/or important stimuli
  • Select – filter out the non-essential input.
  • Organize – into meaningful perception.

This is accomplished by our central nervous system. It is done on an automatic level, so we don’t have to think about it. Without an efficient nervous system, we are unable to interact comfortably with the world around us. In sensory integration theory we consider senses that are normally below the level of our awareness. We think of classic senses yet there are many more (i.e., vestibular, proprioception, tactile, kinesthetic sensations) which are just as essential to or possibly more essential to our survival. We need to be able to integrate sensory information to develop, grow and learn, to do activities of everyday life and to have relationships with others. Sensory processing is complex because no one is perfect at processing sensory information. All people have some ability to integrate sensory input through their senses, but some may be better than others, who might struggle more.

f sensory processing is drawn on a continuum, its one end starts at “almost perfect at sensory integration” and the other end at “only just being able to integrate sensory information” of the continuum. Everyone is on this line somewhere. Following case study can depict the functional and behavioral aspects of sensory integration dysfunction. Master D and A are brothers and are both somewhere along this line. Neither is at the very end, but certainly they are on different sides of the middle of the line. D is a cricketer, who is an expert bowler. He has almost perfect sensory processing ability to integrate the sensory information needed for the run up of a fast spin bowler, his timing to release the ball is exact and he is quickly able to catch any ball hit straight back to him. A is interested in computers. He has trouble with writing, has always found sport difficult, he still can’t ride a bike. D struggles to register information from the world around him, and can’t easily integrate different sensory input together, this means he doesn’t always know where his body is in space, or how to plan for or use it to do the next action. He trips often and so prefers to watch TV to doing outdoor sports; he prefers using computers as it means others can read what he has written. A has problems with sensory processing. The central nervous system receives input from the environment which is organized and processed to produce a motor or behavioral output resulting in accurate feedback and additional input. If the input is not processed and organized accurately, the result is abnormal motor output with abnormal feedback. This cycle continues with increasingly more disorganized sensory input and chaotic output and feedback. The consequences of a disorganized central nervous system are developmental lags, behavioral, emotional, and learning problems. Many atypical behaviors observed in children can be better understood when the effects of a disorganized central nervous system are taken into consideration. The sensory systems that are important in the theoretical base of sensory integration are the auditory, visual, vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile systems. The vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile systems are highlighted as the precursor to the development of the auditory and visual systems. They are thought to be the precursor to the development of most end product abilities. All other skills are complex processes based on a strong foundation of sensory integration. This perspective is different from the theoretical bases of other developmental theories, particularly those involved with cognitive development, which focus on the auditory and visual systems. For most people, sensory integration develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities but for some people, sensory integration does not develop as efficiently as it should. This is known as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration dysfunction (SID). SID can affect academic achievement, personal identity, activities of daily living, behavior or social participation.

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