Sensory Integration

Sensory integration refers to the neurological process of analyzing, organizing and interpreting sensory information, and subsequently, planning and making a response. We discover and experience the world around us through a constant flow of information from our senses—touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell, proprioceptive (body position), and vestibular (movement and balance). Unfortunately, sensory integration does not come naturally to all of us.

A child with sensory processing difficulties may perceive sensory information as overwhelming, confusing or distorted. Often times, seemingly simple tasks are frustrating and the child does not feel the usual security, confidence, and joy from activity that other children do. With treatment, children can master skills and increase self-confidence.

Sensory processing typically happens seamlessly, and we are not consciously aware of the work our brains are doing. We innately understand what is happening around us, how we need to respond, and automatically develop a plan or action sequence in response to the sensation. For instance, most of us can easily discern a congratulatory pat on the back from a “listen up” tap on the shoulder and quickly respond accordingly. Without this unconscious sense, children who have difficulties efficiently and accurately processing sensory information may be misunderstood, and the disorder is often unrecognized. Sensory integrative dysfunction is seen in otherwise typically functioning children as well as those with autism, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and other neurological conditions. A child with difficulties processing sensory information may have delays in motor skills and problems with self-regulation, attention, and behavior.

We provide intervention using the principles of sensory integration theory to address the child’s underlying sensory and motor issues, thereby building a strong foundation for life skills. Treatment is individualized and engages the child’s unique interests in the context of play. Activities are designed to be challenging enough to motivate, but supported enough to ensure success. Creating this "just-right" challenge necessitates a dance between the child and therapist as adjustments are continually made in response to the child's performance and sensory responses.

To help a child self-regulate -- turn the volume up or down on his/her experience of the world—we combine cognitive strategies with sensory integration intervention techniques. As a child gains an understanding of his/her arousal level and response to sensory stimulation, he/she can often find increased ease and comfort in his/her daily life. We use the concepts taught in the Alert Program and find that intervention is most effective when parents give feedback about the child's reactions to sensation at home and in the community.

As an adjunct to treatment, we create a sensory diet to help the child maintain an optimal state of arousal, and/or gain greater body awareness prior to performing skilled tasks. We may also utilize Therapeutic Listening or Integrated Listening Systems (iLs) to aid the child in modulation and coordination of movement.