Sensory integration is the ability to organise and interpret the information that we receive through the senses from our bodies and environment. This process allows us to produce an appropriate response to situations, tasks or environments. Our sensory system is the foundation of our skill development. Whilst some skills may be developed without the support of this foundation, they may not be effective or promote generalisation of skills across all areas of interaction.
When talking about senses we think about our hearing, sight, sense of touch, taste and smell. Occupational Therapists also talk about our bodies senses of where it is (proprioception) and how it is moving (vestibular), so we know how to get our arms and legs into position to catch a ball or write with a pencil. Children and adults all have different strengths or preferences for how they take in, use and respond to their different senses. Often genetics and experience play a part in this, however it can vary depending on each person’s stress level; environment; fatigue; fear or enjoyment; motivation and success. As adults we are aware that managing a busy, noisy day is harder when we haven’t had any sleep.
It is important to remember that everyone has sensory preferences, but they can seem much more obvious in children because they are required to sit and listen or do according to other’s rules and needs, both at school and home. As adults, we can change our environment to suit our needs or have learned ways to manage in these situations. For example, some people need background noise to help them concentrate on a task, whilst others require absolute quiet to be able to concentrate. What happens for the child who can’t focus with all the noise going on in the classroom but must still try to learn in this situation?
Often the ‘behaviour’ children exhibit occurs when seeking or avoiding sensory information; due to taking longer to process this information or have developed alternative responses to tasks and situations that are over or underwhelming for them. Children often know what they need but can’t communicate this to the adults in their lives.
Some examples of sensory issues may include:
- Dislike of sound, touch or movement
- Not aware that they are being spoken to
- Busy, active bodies
- Appearing to mostly be in own world
- Easily distracted, poor attention and concentration
- Appears clumsy, has reduced coordination or balance
- Difficulty getting organised or learning new things
- Poor sleep patterns
- Picky eaters
- Dislike showering, brushing hair or teeth
- Slow to talk
- Limited awareness of others
- Difficulty playing or socializing with others
- Difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks
With help from your Occupational Therapist, you can learn to identify signs that your child is struggling to take in, process or develop appropriate responses to the sensory information around them. An Occupational Therapist can help your child to manage sensory behaviour whilst your child develops ways to regulate their behaviour and the way they interact with their world. Contact our skilled team for further information, assessment and therapy.