Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration

What is Sensory Integration?

Most people know that we have five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. However, there are other very important senses not included in this list. The following areas are addressed (usually by Occupational therapists) when children have Sensory Integration difficulties (also called ‘Sensory dysfunction). When children have Sensory Integration (SI) difficulties it can affect their ability to learn language and social skills.

Proprioreception
This is the awareness of our body position /movement. We do not learn about this sense, so most people are unaware of it until problems arise when the proprioceptive sense is not working well.

Proprioception refers to the processing of sensations received from the muscles and joints of our body. It allows us to sense where each part of our body is and how it is moving.  If we close our eyes and move our arm, we know exactly where our arm is in relation to our body without having to look. This helps us to perform everyday tasks such as dressing, without having to rely on our vision. Proprioception helps our body organise itself for useful activities.

The following examples indicate problems with the proprioreceptive sense: 

  • Children tend to fidget and move a lot in order to produce the sensation so that they can feel where they are and keep themselves feeling grounded.
  • Poor attention to task i.e. the child has to pay more attention to things that should happen automatically i.e. sitting in a chair, rather than focusing on task provided
  • Excessive or insufficient force on objects, e.g. holding a pencil so hard it breaks
  • May have inefficient / awkward pencil grip
  • May be clumsy and fall frequently

Auditory Processing
We are born with the basic skill of hearing, which is the ability to receive sound. This ability however does not guarantee that we understand what we hear.

Auditory processing skills consist of:

  • Auditory discrimination or the ability to make sense of what is being heard.
  • Auditory modulation or the way in which an individual responds to sound.

Functional Implications

The individual with inefficient auditory discrimination may have difficulties in the following areas:

  • Attending to or understanding what is said
  • Discriminating between certain sounds or words
  • Auditory memory – especially short term memory
  • Recognising direction, source and/or location of sound
  • Paying attention to or recognising one particular sound without being distracted by background noise
  • Responding consistently to verbal requests
  • Follow verbal directions or demands
  • Rhythm and singing in tune
  • Putting thoughts into spoken or written words

The individual with auditory modulation problems may have difficulties in the following areas:

  • Filtering out unimportant background noise
  • Showing distress at loud, sudden noises, or sounds that don’t bother others
  • Feeling that they’re being “shouted or yelled at”
  • Being accused of excessive noise making, generally in order to block out unwelcome noises and thus be able to concentrate better