Sensory Integration & Your Child

What is Sensory Integration?Ball pool boy

Sensory Integration (SI) describes the brain’s ability to absorb information from our senses, organize it, and respond appropriately. In essence, it is the organization of the senses that provide each of us with an understanding of ourselves and the world.

When our sensory integration is functioning well, our perceptions of taste, touch, smell, sound, sight, balance, motion, and bodily awareness are simultaneously combined and organized by our brains to give us a clear “picture.” This complex process typically takes place on an automatic level, meaning that usually we don’t need to think about it.

But, it is challenging for those who have difficulty processing sensory stimuli to feel calm, alert, and focused. They have a hard time adapting to sensations. In order to help those who have sensory processing disorders, it’s necessary to bring balance to the neurological system and help regulate the number and types of sensory occurrences that will be experienced.

How can I tell if my child might have SI difficulties?

Use the simple Sensory Integration Processing Checklist. If your child has difficulties in several of the areas on the checklist, or if there are major functional problems in one particular area, he or she may have SI difficulties.

Play dough gameCan occupational therapy help with SI difficulties?

Occupational therapy is one of the most effective therapies for those who have difficulty processing sensory stimuli. Some of the methods and techniques occupational therapists employ to improve functional performance for those with sensory issues include: therapeutic exercises to develop strength and endurance, range of motion and flexibility; sensory integration; neuromuscular re-education; manual therapy; oral function; reflex integration; and attachment parenting. I also use a range of other interventions, including Therapeutic Listening® (see the end of this post.)

What causes SI problems?

There is no single definitive cause. There are a variety of causes, including premature birth, birth trauma, genetics, exposure to toxins, high-stress and trauma, etc.

Can SI dysfunction be cured?

Occupational therapy, utilizing an SI treatment approach, can greatly minimize SI dysfunction in the areas of daily life activities and behavior. Research has demonstrated that a child’s nervous system can be changed and his/her ability to process sensation can be improved.

5iStock_000010621773SmallWill sensory processing issues go away as my child matures?

Probably not. Sometimes , due to the greater flexibility that an adult has in choosing his/her daily activities, SI issues can appear to be minimized as a child grows into adulthood. However, the underlying SI issues do not go away on their own.

How is SI dysfunction related to other diagnoses such as autism, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.? If a child has another diagnosis, can he/she still benefit from Occupational Therapy-SI therapy?

SI difficulties can occur in isolation or in conjunction with many other diagnoses. Children with other diagnoses may receive services (such as speech therapy, tutoring, ABA, etc.) and may also take medications. Occupational Therapy-SI therapy is an appropriate intervention for any child who, in addition to any other difficulties or diagnoses, has problems with sensory processing that are impacting their daily functional performance.

Do all children with autism have SI difficulties?

No, although it is estimated that approximately 70% of children with autism experience SI problems. SI therapy can help reduce the dysfunction that can occur due to the effects of autism.

Thrive client enjoying Therapeutic Listening® while swinging.
Thrive client enjoying Therapeutic Listening® while swinging.

Why do you recommend the Therapeutic Listening® Program in many cases of SI disorders?

Shelia Fricks, OTR/L, creator of the Therapeutic Listening® (TL) Program, believes that TL is an expansion of sensory integration. TL is an auditory intervention that uses the organized sound patterns in music to impact all levels of the nervous system. The emphasis of TL is on utilizing sound intervention strategies to sustain grounding and centering of the body and mind in space and time.

TL, when utilized in conjunction with SI therapy techniques, often expedites treatment goals in the areas of: modulation, balance and movement perception; increased exploration of the environment, sense of physical competence, and improved social competence and language abilities.

In my own practice, I found that adding Therapeutic Listening® to my repertoire of treatment modalities has had a profound affect on children with SI difficulties.

If you have further questions regarding whether you child may benefit from occupational therapy intervention due to SI dysfunction, please the Thrive office at 917-573-5540.

For further information, please go to Vitallinks and check the “Parent Info.” section.

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