Sensory Integration: Know the Basics
Sensory integration is the process by which we receive information through our senses, organize this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities.
An example of sensory integration is:
- Baby smelling food as they bring it to their mouth
- Tasting the food
- Feeling the texture
- Determining what this food is and if they want more
Did You Know There Are 7 Senses?
You read that right! Most people think there are just 5 sense, but there are actually 7! So what are the 7 senses?
- Sight (Vision)
- Hearing (Auditory)
- Smell (Olfactory)
- Taste (Gustatory)
- Touch (Tactile)
- Vestibular (Movement): the movement and balance sense, which gives us information about where our head and body are in space. Helps us stay upright when we sit, stand, and walk.
- Proprioception (Body Position): the body awareness sense, which tells us where our body parts are relative to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use, allowing us to do something like crack an egg while not crushing the egg in our hands.
So how does this all come together? Here’s an example of sensory integration while playing baseball:
Imagine you’re playing baseball and you’re up to bat. You use your vestibular sense to take your batting stance, and proprioception to sense where your hands are, where your feet are, and how you should swing to make contact with the ball. You then see the ball come closer to you and you swing. You hear the ball crack against the bat and you know you’ve hit it, so you begin to run! You continue to listen and look as you see the other players scrambling to get the ball and tag you out. You can see you’re getting closer to first base, but so is the ball, so you decide to slide. As you slide, you balance your body; extend your arms because you’re aware of their position and that they will reach the base first; and feel to know when the base is against your fingertips. It may be a little unpleasant to taste and smell the dirt as you slide, but your senses confirm you’ve made it!
When does sensory development begin?
Very early on! In fact, some sensory development, like sense of smell, begins in utero.
What sensory integration milestones should my child be reaching?
As your child grows and develops, they should achieve new sensory milestones. From visual tracking, to reaching for new toys, to putting objects in their mouth (yes, that’s typical!), baby will keep engaging their senses to learn about the world around them.
Learn the sensory milestones to track your child’s development.
Watch some of these early sensory milestones, and see all sensory milestones through 18 months here.
Keeping their senses engaged through everyday activities
We’ve got some great ideas for your little one, from birth to 18 months.
What to Watch For
Some children have difficulties receiving and processing incoming sensations. Some signs of a sensory issue include:
- 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”
What to do if you suspect a delay
Each child reacts to sensory information differently. Sensory issues are very complex because a child's sensory system could be a mixture of over reactive, under reactive, or actively engaged.
If you suspect an issue, contact a healthcare provider to share your concerns. Everyday tasks can become difficult for a child who processes sensory information differently, so it’s best to connect with a professional who can help you understand your child’s sensory integration.