Sensory Integration

Sensory Experiences

Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body position, vision, smell, taste, sound and the pull of gravity. The process of the brain organising and interpreting this information is called sensory integration. Sensory integration provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behaviour.

For most individuals sensory integration develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities. But for some, sensory integration does not develop as efficiently as it should. This is known as sensory processing disorder [SPD] or dysfunction in sensory integration [D.S.I.]. When the process is disordered a number of problems in learning, motor skills and behaviour may be evident.

Sensory Integration

The concept and theory of sensory integration comes from a body of work developed by Dr A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR, an occupational therapist who was based in California, U.S.A. As an occupational therapist, Dr. Ayres was interested in the way in which sensory processing and motor planning disorders interfere with activities of daily living and learning.

This theory has been developed and refined by the research of Dr. Ayres, as well as other professionals. In addition, literature from the fields of neuropsychology, neurology, physiology, child development, psychology and the conducting of basic and applied research studies have contributed to the development of theory and intervention strategies.

Some Signs of sensory processing disorder/ dysfunction in sensory integration

Some signs of SPD/DSI:

  • Physical clumsiness
  • Difficulty learning new movements
  • Activity level unusually high or low
  • Poor body awareness
  • Inappropriate response to touch, movements, sights or sounds
  • Poor self esteem
  • Social and/or emotional difficulties

In addition there may be:

  • Distractibility, impulsivity, limited attention control.
  • Delays in speech, language and/or motor skills.
  • Specific learning difficulties and/or perceptual difficulties.
  • Poor self care skills.

Why are Sensory processing difficulties important to recognise?

An important step in promoting sensory integration in children is to recognise that it exists and that it plays a vital role in their development.

Research has identified the main diagnostic groups linked with SPD/DSI:

  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (including Autism and Aspergers Syndrome)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (A.D.H.D./A.D.D,)
  • Learning Disorders ( i.e. specific learning difficulties e.g. dyslexia)
  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder [DCD] (including Dyspraxia)

If an individual is suspected of having SPD/DSI, an assessment can be carried out by a relevantly qualified occupational therapist, physiotherapist or speech and language therapist who has taken post-graduate training in sensory integration.

Assessments usually consist of both standardised testing and structured observation of posture, balance and coordination as well as responses to their sensory environment.

After carefully analysing test results and assessment data from other professionals and parents, the therapist will make recommendations regarding appropriate therapy and will provide a profile of the individual’s sensory processing abilities and whether or not your child has a SPD/D.S.I.