The term "sensory integration" describes the neurological organization of our senses. Usually, when we think of senses, we count five: taste, smell, sight, sound and touch. Actually, there are two more; the sense of proprioception (where am I in space?) and vestibular processing (balance), both of which are involved with movement, gravity and body position. These seven senses provide the foundation necessary for all types of learning and movement.
When our brains process the information we receive through our senses, our nervous system responds appropriately to incoming stimuli. Thus, we instinctively snatch our hands from a hot stove, shift our weight from one foot to another when climbing stairs, slip easily into our jackets or stop ourselves from lashing out in frustration.
Our physical response as well as our behavioral, emotional and intellectual responses depend on the smooth operating integration of all our senses. When a personís neurological processing is inefficient performing ordinary tasks and responding to ordinary events can be enormously challenging. Unfortunately, just growing older does not always mean getting better at many physical and intellectual tasks. What does help is therapeutic intervention: Occupational Therapy.
Early intervention services incorporate typical childhood play activities in a natural setting, these services work with the child at a time in their life when their nervous system is still growing and is very elastic. It is a time when the most significant change can occur and have a lasting effect on a childís sensory and motor development. Intervention at this age, provides a boost to young children giving them a greater chance at being more successful in their later years, both at school and in their community.
In pre-school, early childhood experiences, like walking the balance beam, playing the rhythm sticks, attending circle time activities, pouring juice, asking and answering questions, and interacting amicably with others, build healthy neurological development. While all children can thrive in this environment, those children with sensory integration dysfunction are not as adept as their peers. Sensory integration treatment, along with a home program of specialized activities, enhances the childís neurological organization and often helps the family better understand their child.
In elementary school, childhood experiences such as playing on the monkey bars, sitting attentively with good posture, learning to read and write, asking and answering meaningful questions, looking at the board and back at their paper, and interacting appropriately with others, continue to contribute to neurological development. Occupational therapy at this stage provides therapeutic intervention by incorporating typical childhood play activities while gradually increasing the challenges to the childís sensory system. Therapy sessions involve play on suspended equipment and a variety of new tasks to challenge and strengthen your childís developing skills.
Sensory integration therapy very often provides significant change and can have a lasting effect on a childís motor and sensory development giving them the ability to be successful as they continue to grow, develop and navigate their environment.
If you are unsure whether or not Sensory Integration therapy is right for your child the: SPD checklist will help educate you about particular signs of sensory processing dysfunction. Please note the check list is not a diagnostic tool but rather, a tool to help you better understand your childís needs.
Abraham, D., Braley, P., and Drobnjak, L. (2015)
Sensory Processing 101
An easy-to-read guide to use as a starting point to gain a better understanding of sensory processing and the body’s sensory systems. This book is designed to help all children - not just those with a sensory disorder. Includes explanation of each sensory system, sensory activities, and sensory resources.
Ayres, A. Jean (1979, 2005)
Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges
Written for families and teachers by the theoretician and therapist who formulated sensory integration theory and therapy; provides a great understanding of SPD.
Biel, Lindsey and Nancy Peske (2005)
Raising A Sensory Smart Child: A Parent's Guide to Sensory Integration Dysfunction
An informative book written by a parent of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and a pediatric occupational therapist; provides a practical, hands-on guide with many ideas for activities; operates www.sensorysmarts.com, an informative web site for parents, addressing questions such as how to find an occupational therapist.
Cermak, Sharon, Jane Koomar, Stacey Szklut and David Silver (1998)
Making Sense of Sensory Integration
A one-hour audio discussion between occupational therapists describing SPD and how it affects a child's daily activities and family life. Includes excellent screening checklists for infants, preschoolers, and elementary age children.
Fryer Dietz, Sally (2015)
When Kids Fly
A book written for parents, friends, grandparents, teachers and medical professionals alike. It can help someone figure out when to worry about a child's development, when not to worry, and what options are available – no matter where that child falls on the spectrum of sensory motor integration.
Goldstein, Tami (2013)
Coming Through the Fog
A Mother Share Her Journey of Her Daughter’s Recovery from Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder to Functioning Recovery and independent living while providing helpful tips for other parents. A portion of the proceeds from each book sold will be donated to SPD Foundation.
Heller, Sharon. (2002)
Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World.
An overview of sensory defensiveness and an examination of treatment options, including diet, medication, and relaxation techniques. Appendices list alternative treatments and resources.
Kranowitz, Carol Stock (1998; revised 2005)
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction.
Written by a former preschool teacher with a special background in movement education, this highly acclaimed book describes how problems processing touch-pressure and movement stimuli affect a child's performance in school and at home; includes detailed checklists and resources.
Schneider, Rachel (2016)
Making Sense: A Guide to Sensory Issues
Whether you’re someone with sensory issues, a loved one supporting a sensory person, a professional, or someone that is curious about unusual and complex sensory experiences, this guide will answer your questions about life with sensory processing differences.
Trott, Maryann Colby, Marci Laurel and Susan Windeck (1993)
SenseAbilities: Understanding sensory integration
A 69-page booklet that uses case examples to help families and teachers understand SPD; includes suggestions for adapting playground equipment, bedtime, clothes, communication, and travel. Sold in packages of five booklets with one set of unbound pages.
Yack, Ellen, Shirley Sutton, Paula Aquilla (2002)
Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration
Innovative strategies and practical advice for managing behaviors, improving muscle tone, developing social skills, creating sensory diets – and more!
Smith, Barbara (2011)
From Rattles to Writing
This groundbreaking guide (written by an occupational therapist) describes the songs, games, toys, activities, and adaptations that help children develop the visual-perceptual skills needed to read and the eye-hand coordination to write.
www.aspennj.org (for Asperger’s syndrome and nonverbal learning disorder)
www.vitallinks.net (therapeutic Listening program)