What is Sensory Integration Dysfunction?
Does your child resist when it is time to wash his face, cut his nails or have a haircut? Does he seem to avoid hugs and cuddles? Is he doing well at school but often complains when it comes to sports activities? Do you struggle with your child because you feel his mood switches suddenly, from being a very calm cooperative child to a difficult child who is not accepting changes in plans or the routine? While it may feel like it, your child is not trying to be difficult. He may have Sensory Integration Dysfunction.
What is Sensory Integration?
Sensory Integration is an unconscious process in our brain that helps us organize the information that is detected by our senses. It helps us shift through the various information and select what is needed in order to give meaning to our experiences. Moreover, proper sensory integration allows us to respond to different experiences in a purposeful manner and forms the underlying foundation for our social and academic development.
Up until the age of 7, our brain is mainly a sensory processing machine, in which our body senses something and our brain gives it a meaning through such sensations. A child at this age does not have any abstract thinking; he/she is mainly concerned with sensing them and thus moving his/her body in relation to those sensations.
Sensory integration is the process of taking information from one’s body and the environment through the senses and then organizing this information so that the person can interact with the environment effectively and experience appropriate satisfaction. Hence, the sensory integration that takes place from moving, talking or playing forms the foundation for the more complex sensory integration that is necessary for reading, writing and good behavior. If a child’s sensorimotor processing is well organized in the first 7 years of life, then they will have an easier time learning mental and social skills later on.
While we generally know about our five senses- taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing; there are two additional senses that are very important to our ability to function in the world. These are:
- The Proprioceptive Sense, which tells us the position of our bodies through sensors in our muscles, tendons, and joints, that allows us to know the amount of force we exert on things and our body scheme
- The Vestibular Sense: which gives us information about where our body is in space and is critical to the development of our balance, coordination of both sides of the body and our ability to maintain an optimal level of alertness and arousal.
So now, what is Sensory Integration Dysfunction?
It means that the child’s brain is not processing or organizing the flow of sensory impulses from one or more of our 7 sensory systems in a manner that is giving the child good precise information about himself/herself and about the world around him/her.
What causes difficulty in sensory processing?
There is no known specific reason. Hereditary and chemical factors may be combined in some children.
What are common signs and symptoms?
- Hyperactivity and distractibility
- Behavior problems
- Difficulties in self-esteem and self-control
- Speech & language delays
- Muscle tone and coordination problems
- Learning difficulties at school
- In later years a child may have difficulty in organizations and lack of the capacity for abstract thought and reasoning
What can you do?
Unlike typically developing children who engage in play that naturally provides their brain with sensory experiences that the brain needs; children with sensory integration dysfunction will need therapy in order to provide playing in a specifically designed environment, using specialized equipment, and aims on encouraging the child to develop the adaptive responses that organize the brain in a safe environment. With the proper intervention, children will show improvement in their sensory processing skills.
Seek help from an Occupational Therapist who can assess your child’s sensory processing abilities. If a problem is present your therapist will advise starting Occupational Therapy sessions that follow a Sensory Integration approach.
*Source for the main picture: Reader's Digest