What is Sensory Integration?
Sensory integration is how we receive information through our senses, organize this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities.
We have five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
- The vestibular sense, also known as the “balance sense”
- This gives us information about where our head and body are in space
- Allows us to stay upright while we sit, stand, and walk.
- Proprioception, or the “body awareness sense”
- This tells us where our body parts are
- It also gives us information about how much force to use in certain activities
- Example: This allows us to crack open an egg without crushing it in our hands or kick a ball into a goal
Most of our daily activities combine many different senses at the same time.
For example, a toddler uses sight to identify food, touch to explore the texture of his food, proprioception to bring the food to his mouth, smell and taste to identify different types of food, and uses their vestibular sense to sit upright during the meal.
As your child grows, they learn how to take in all of this sensory information at the same time, process it all, focus on particular sensations needed for their current task, and ignore ones that are not as important at that moment.
Some children have difficulties receiving and processing incoming sensations, making everyday tasks at home and at school frustrating.
Sensory Processing Disorders
The way our nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses is called Sensory Processing.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not have an effective treatment plan (1).
Signs of a Sensory Issue:
- Overly sensitive or under reactive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
- Unusually high or low activity level
- Easily distracted; poor attention to tasks
- Delays in speech, motor skills, or academic achievement
- Coordination problems; appears clumsy or awkward
- Poor body awareness
- Difficulty learning new tasks or figuring out how to play with unfamiliar toys
- Difficulty with tasks that require using both hands at the same time
- Appears to be disorganized most of the time
- Difficulty with transitions between activities or environments
- Immature social skills
- Impulsivity or lack of self-control
- Difficulty calming self once “wound up”
Not all kids with SPD look the same
One person with a sensory processing disorder may over-respond to touch sensation. We call this type of child sensory-avoidant. Sensory-avoidant children often find clothing, physical contact, other tactile sensory input to be unbearable. Daily living tasks like brushing their teeth, eating certain foods, getting dressed, and handwashing can become difficult and unpleasant.
Another child might under-respond and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold or just may be slow to respond to a sensation.
The third main category we see are children crave sensation, we call these children sensory seekers. They are the pen-clickers, leg swingers, high-energy kids that need to be fidgeting or moving in some way. These kids often are misdiagnosed – and inappropriately medicated – for ADHD.
Who Can Treat SPD?
Occupational therapists (or OTs) are the specialists who work with kids who have sensory issues. Your child may be referred to an OT at his school, or you can choose to work with one through a private practice like Spark. OTs engage kids in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input, to make them feel more comfortable, secure, and able to focus.
An occupational therapist can evaluate your child for SPD and create a treatment plan and a list of activities to try at home to improve sensory responses. The OT will also work in-office with your child and expose them to varying levels of stimuli and teach them how to regular their behavior. While OTs are specifically licensed to work on sensory needs, all of our therapist implement sensory-enriching activities during each session to provide stimulating and engaging sessions.
SPD Support at Spark
Here at Spark Therapies, we love all things sensory! We acknowledge that every child we see is different and that some of them are more comfortable in certain situations than others. We do everything we can to accommodate your child’s unique sensory preferences and teach them the skills to process unusual or non-preferred stimuli.
We have a wide array of tools, equipment, and techniques to help your child succeed. Some of our staff favorites include:
- The sensory cave with bubble tube, black lights, color-shifting lighting, and fiber optic features
- Tactile bins with water beads, sand, beans, and treasures to discover
- Light table to discover and play with colors, shapes, and more
- Adjustable hammocks, tube swing, platform swing, and a cozy sensory swing for working on the vestibular sense
- Ball pit
- Rock wall
- A crashpad directly beneath the rock wall for deep pressure and prioproceptive sense
- Indoor gym with ladders, towers, playspaces, and monkey bars
- Basketball hoop
- Tons of goop, putty, and slime
- Fine-motor games, strengthening tools and toys
To learn more about how Spark Therapies can help your child regulate their behavior and reaction to sensory stimulus, call 603-843-8462 or email us as firstname.lastname@example.org
We also sell Aaron’s Thinking Putty and Fidget Cubes in the office for kiddos that need these tools at home or in school. You can pick one up at the front desk during your next visit.