Sensory Integration

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration (SI) is a theory, and specialized treatment approach, used to explain and help children respond to sensory processing issues that may be present. When a child is not properly processing sensory stimuli such as touch and sound, his or her behavioral response can be overwhelming and debilitating.

The theory and treatment of SI disorders was developed by A. Jean Ayres, Occupational Therapist (OT), more than 20 years ago. Her theory was based on the concept that the neurological interpretation within the brain, in various children, was not properly functioning. This malfunction was evident by the “output” which was observed through various abnormal behaviors.

The seven senses providing input into the brain include:

  • Proprioception (sense of body in space)
  • Sight (visual)
  • Smell (olfactory)
  • Sound (auditory)
  • Taste (gustatory)
  • Touch (tactile)
  • Vestibular (movement and balance)

When a child in unable to properly discriminate, coordinate, and organize the “input” of the sensory stimulus, then a dysfunction in sensory integration (DSI) may be present.[1] DSI symptoms can range from mild to debilitating for the child.

Research has found DSI can have a profound effect on a child including, alertness, emotional control, attention, and learning capabilities. The symptoms and behaviors observed can vary widely. Every child and situation is unique.

There is a lot of research to be done yet as there are many unanswered questions as to how DSI develops and how it is treated. Parent’s often times feel guilty or wonder what they may have done wrong, but the fact is research is showing it may be inherited. Also, prenatal and complications during birthing (e.g. low birth weight, prematurity, etc.) have also been implicated to DSI. As with any development and behavioral disorder, research also indicates factors may include both genetic and environmental.

What to expect

Sensory integration treatment typically includes the involvement of a team. Often, the symptoms of DSI go untreated and unrecognizable until a child is school aged. A teacher may be the first to recognize behavioral traits such as poor attention control, struggling with basic learning concepts, and possibly the child may have difficulty with social skills. In other cases, parents and family may recognize symptoms before school age.

Regardless of when symptoms are first noticed, often times there is a team that works with the family and child to improve the child’s ability to properly learn and develop. If school aged, the child’s teacher and school establish a plan to ensure the child is given every opportunity to succeed. A family or pediatric physician may be involved to help the family through normalizing the development phases. Sometimes this includes regular check-ins and possibly medications.

OTs are often included as an integral part of the team. OTs specialize in SI theory and treatment techniques. The goal of the OT is to help the correct the brain’s way of processing sensory stimulus. The theory is, in a structured treatment approach the OT repeatedly exposes the child to various sensory stimulations. Overtime, the brain begins to adapt allowing the child to react more efficiently and effectively to sensory input.

For the first visit, an OT completes a thorough assessment of the child. With the results of the assessment, the OT will establish a plan of care. Treatment includes gradual exposure, from simple to complex, sensory input and helps the child’s nervous system respond in a more “organized” fashion.

The treatment approach focuses on balance, movement, sensory input, and establishing a customized activity list based on the child’s symptoms and response to treatment. These activities will be performed not only in OT, but also at home with proper guidance and structure.

Is sensory integration right for you?

Sensory integration treatment is not right for every child who may be having sensory issues. A thorough assessment of the child should be completed before treatment options are recommended. Based on testing results, your physician will determine if this is the best program for your child.

As a consumer of health care, you have a choice in finding the right provider for your child. Do your homework and search for a health care provider with excellent outcomes, great customer reviews, and can provide the care your child needs for a reasonable cost.

If sensory integration treatment is prescribed, you can find a qualified SI OT near you. Please click on Find A Clinic. This link will help you find an OT in your area that performs sensory integration.


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