Sensory Integration (SI)

Our bodies receive information about our environment through our senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch). We receive this information from both inside and outside of our bodies. Sensory integration refers to how our bodies process this sensory information in an organized manner. This is controlled by our Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord!)

Sensory Dysfunction

Sensory dysfunction occurs when the body has trouble properly processing sensory stimuli and therefore, has trouble carrying out every day tasks such as: dressing, eating, walking, or even playing. Sensory dysfunction can occur with a combination of our senses including: hearing, taste, smell, sight, tough, or movement.

Potential Signs of Sensory Dysfunction:

  • Over or under responsiveness to sensory input (i.e. doesn’t tolerate tags in clothes, has a high pain threshold, doesn’t like loud noises, etc.)
  • Unusually high or low activity level
  • Child is in constant motion of fatigue
  • Difficulties with fine motor (cutting with scissors) and/or motor planning (throwing a ball)
  • Self-regulation problems (i.e. difficulty calming down after an activity)
  • Difficulty changing activities
  • Poor eye-hand coordination

Creating Sensory Rich Experiences Through Play!

Creating sensory rich experiences/environment can help a child attach a meaning to a sensation. These experiences can assist with “regulating” a child to improve attention and overall function. There are generally three focus areas of sensation when creating sensory rich experiences:

  • Tactile- The tactile system involves the sense of touch. Receptors are located under the skin and send signals to our brain to experience all kinds of things from itching, to tickling, pressure, hot and cold, pain, vibration, and movement.
  • Proprioceptive- The proprioceptive system uses receptors in our muscles, tendons, and joints to tell our nervous system where are body is in space. It is involved with motor planning, executing and grading movement, and postural control and stability.
  • Vestibular – The vestibular system involves receptors in the inner ear (semi-circular canals), which sense movement and changes in position of the head. It can affect areas such as muscle tone, whole body (gross motor) coordination, balance, bilateral integration, language and levels of alertness or arousal.
Activities for the Senses:
  • Tactile sensitivities
    • Use materials with different textures: Have a child touch/play with rice, sand, beans, water, shaving cream, etc.
      • Hide items in a box of rice
      • Write the ABCs in shaving cream
      • Finger Paint
    • Try deep pressure massage or hugs
      • Make a kid “sandwich” by gently squeezing them between two couch cushions
      • Try brushing your child with soft brushes or feather for calming
  • Proprioceptive
    • Hop, skip, jump, march, clap
    • Walk like animals: crab, bear, frog jump
    • Push/pull games: tug of war, wall pushups, chair pushups
    • Perform exercises/play with ankle, wrist, or backpack weights
  • Vestibular
    • Swinging
      • linearly (back and forth)
      • rotary (circular movement)
    • Bouncing on a ball
    • Jumping Jacks
    • Tip-toe walking
    • Dancing