What Is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration is the process by which we receive information through our senses, organize this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities.

There Are More Than 5 Senses…

Most people are familiar with five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. However, we also receive input through two additional senses:

The vestibular sense, or movement and balance sense, gives us information about where our head and body are in space. It allows us to stay upright while we sit, stand, and walk.

Proprioception, or body awareness sense, tells us where our body parts are relative to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use in certain activities, allowing us to crack open an egg without crushing it in our hands.

Most activities require us to combine information from many different senses at the same time.

sensory_processingFor example, a toddler uses 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 the vestibular sense to sit upright during the meal.

As they grow, children learn how to take in and process all this sensory information at the same time and focus their attention on particular sensations while ignoring others.

Watch this parent guide to the 7 senses:

How Do I Know If My Child Has a Sensory Issue?

Some children have difficulties receiving and processing incoming sensations, making everyday tasks at home and at school frustrating.

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”

Each child reacts to sensory information differently and sensory issues are very complex because a child’s sensory systems could be a mixture of over reactive, under reactive, or typical. They could be under responsive in one area like proprioception processing and over response to another like processing tactile information. A trained occupational therapist can determine which of a child’s sensory systems are over reactive and under reactive to sensory information.

Everyday tasks can become frustrating for a child who processes sensory information differently, which is why it’s so important for children with sensory issues to be in occupational therapy and have proper support from adults to help them become actively engaged and learn how to self-regulate.

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  • Mailloux Z & Smith Roley S. Sensory Integration Development and Early Signs of Difficulties. July 2013.