Sensory integration is the ability to take information from one’s senses and organize it to perform a motor or behavioral response. Sensory input is essential for optimal brain function. There are several different types of sensory systems including visual, auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive, oral, tactile and olfactory.
The messages received from each sensory system impacts a child’s overall functioning. Children may experience decreased ability with competency in sensory integration. A child that has difficulty processing incoming information from their senses may demonstrate difficulty executing appropriate responses for successful participation in daily activities.
Visual System: The visual systemprovides both temporal and spatial information. The ability to process visual input is essential to feeling secure in your environment. It allows a child to learn where they are, what is happening within their environment, and what may happen at any moment.Children with difficulty processing visual input may prefer to be in the dark, express discomfort with or avoid bright lights, have difficulty navigating through environments, be unable to put puzzles together or cover their eyes or squint to protect eyes from light.
Auditory System: The auditory system helps to facilitate communication and determine where sounds are coming from. Children with difficulty processing auditory input may hold hands over ears to protect ears from sound, appear not to hear what you are saying (i.e., appears to ignore you), or have trouble completing tasks when there is background noises present.
Vestibular Sense: The vestibular system provides information about gravity, balance and movement in space. Children with difficulty processing vestibular input may display fear when their feet leave the ground, dislike playground activities, or dislike riding in cars. Alternatively, they may continuously rock, spin, and/or bounce or may enjoy intense movement experiences that tends to infer with their ability to participate in functional activities.
Proprioceptive System: The proprioceptive system provides information to a child’s muscles and joints for awareness of movement and body position. Children with difficulty processing proprioceptive input may purposely bump and crash into objects within their environment, they may frequently break toys, or have difficulty judging how much force to use to perform various tasks like opening/closing a door.
Oral System: The oral system applies to textures, tastes, and temperature, which enter the mouth. Children with difficulty processing oral input may be a picky eater. They may avoid or crave certain foods, routinely smell non-food objects or gag easily with food textures or utensils in their mouth.
Tactile System: The tactile system provides information about touch. The touch sensation can be processed as light or deep pressure. The ability to processes touch from one’s environment is essential for body awareness and motor planning as well as social skills. Children with difficulty processing tactile input may refuse to participate in activities that are messy, withdraw from groups and resist playing with others, or they may display an increased need to touch objects or people within their environment to the point of annoying others.
Olfactory System: The olfactory system relates to a child’s ability to smell odors. A child with olfactory dysfunction may have difficulty discriminating odors, crave certain smells, or may negatively respond to certain foods, perfume or household cleaning products.
Here are some questions to ask about your child’s behavior….
Why does my child frequently take risks, jump or crash into furniture?
Why does my child only eat certain foods?
Why does my child cry and become upset with loud noises (i.e., vacuum)?
Why does my child only wear certain clothes?
Why does my child have difficulty calming or falling asleep?
Why does my child become upset in busy or crowded places?
Do you think your child may have sensory processing difficulties? Are they having difficulty performing daily routines? Occupational therapy that focuses on sensory integration is tailored to a child’s needs, as it impedes upon occupations at home, in play, at school and/or in the community. Activities implemented are a combination of sensory experiences that specifically target the child’s system(s) that are not functioning efficiently for optimal performance in all environments. By providing sensory input in a controlled and safe manor, a child can begin to process the information in order to elicit an appropriate adaptive response. Over time, children can begin to successfully engage in meaningful tasks and daily occupations – resulting in improved self-esteem and self-confidence.