This handout was VERY interesting to me. It touches on points that I had never thought of, like how we all have 2 other senses in addition to the 5 we normally talk about; vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
What is sensory integration?
- Sensory Integration: the neurological process that organizes sensation from one's own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment (Ayres, 1988). We constantly receive input through our various senses, our brain then registers and interprets the input and we then act accordingly.
- Sensory Processing: the process of the brain receiving, interpreting and organizing input from all of the active senses at any given moment.
What sensory systems do we use everyday, all the time?
- The "usual" 5 senses, which are: vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch (tactile)
- The 2 other less-known senses: Vestibular (movement) and Proprioception (deep pressure)
- All of the different senses can have difficulties; however, the majority of "sensory integration" problems come from the Tactile, Proprioceptive and Vestibular senses.
- Tactile: the sensation of touch, allows people to manipulate objects in a refined manner, feel input throughout our body through receptors in the skin.
- Vestibular: is basically the "equilibrium" system that allows people to detect movement and is comprised of 3 semi-circular canals which detect and register movement and gravity receptors (utricle/sacule).
- Proprioception: this is usually subconscious information the brain receives from our muscles and joints. This information tells us where our body parts are in space. It allows us to walk, run, jump and generally move in a coordinated manner.
What happens when there are problems in these areas?
- With each of these senses, there is "normal" range of functioning. Problems occur when people interpret the information they receive through their senses either too highly (hypersensitive) or too lowly (hyposensitive).
- Hypersensitive or over reactive systems: the individual's body and/or brain interprets incoming sensory stimulation as overwhelming or way too much and they become resistive or defensive to this input.
- Hyposensitive or under reactive systems: the individual's body and/or brain interprets incoming sensory stimulation as under arousing or way too little and they don't register it or feel it.
Typical sensory integration difficulties:
- Tactile: when there is a problem, usually people are hypersensitive to the feeling of being touched or certain textures touching their skin. Many times, people are more sensitive on their hands, feet and around and in their mouth (orally-defensive).
- Vestibular: with movement, problems can arise on both extremes.
1. Hypersensitive: intolerance to movement or a fear of falling/heights (gravitational insecurity). This can lead to becoming resistive and defensive to movement activities and having their feet off of the ground. They may become physically sick/nauseated with normal amounts of movement.
2. Hyposensitive: the brain fails to register the movement appropriately; therefore, the individual will then seek additional movement by initiating excessive movement, such as rocking, spinning, swinging, etc. The individual may also have difficulty with postural responses, balance and bilateral coordination.
- Proprioceptive: The brain has difficulty registering the deep pressure input appropriately (hyposensitive); therefore, these individuals seek additional deep pressure by bouncing, jumping, rocking hard in a chair, "crashing" into objects, seeking tight spots in which to squeeze themselves, etc. Treatment includes setting up a variety of deep pressure activities (sensory diet) that fulfill this need in an appropriate way and hopefully decrease the "seeking" behavior.
- Children can be hyper or hypo-sensitive to visual, auditory, tastes, smells also. These are more obvious by the behavior they exhibit, either seeking or avoiding the specific sensory stimulation.
- Dyspraxia or "motor planning": difficulty with the ability to conceive, organize and execute a sequence of actions that are new and unfamiliar. The ability to execute a new motor action is accomplished through the coordination of the tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive senses. Individuals with dyspraxia are often clumsy and uncoordinated.
- To provide sensory stimulation in an active, controlled and safe manner to allow the person to learn to experience these sensations with success. The individual must first trust the situation and actively participate in the activity and then gradually work through a variety of sensory experiences and increase their tolerance to the activity and sensory input.
- Find out what the individual tolerates and does not tolerate in each sensory area and then set up a plan to work on those items/activities tolerated first and then gradually vary the input. Go slowly and make sure the person is comfortable before taking the next step.
- Many individuals with physical disabilities are unable to move and experience various sensations. Therefore, often they enjoy being assisted in experiencing vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (deep pressure), tactile and other sensory input.
- For those children that seek or crave sensory input, give it to them as part of their "sensory diet" in a hope that it will decrease the inappropriate "seeking" behavior. This is a good time to work on more appropriate social interaction, eye contact, requesting and vocalizations.
Compiled by Paul Daybell, OTR
Next week I will post an article on Sensory Activities and Ideas.