Learn about sensory integration therapy and how it can help children improve their ability to process and respond to sensory information.
What is Sensory Integration?
Sensory Integration refers to the processing, integration, and organisation of sensory information from the body and the environment. To simply put it, it is how we experience, process, interpret, and react (or ignore) to information we receive from our senses. Sensory integration is important in our daily lives, such as getting dressed, eating, moving around, socialising, learning and working.
Sensory information is received from our senses, which include:
- Sight (vision)
- Hearing (auditory system)
- Touch (tactile system)
- Taste (gustatory system)
- Smell (olfactory system)
- Proprioception (senses of body awareness and position)
- Vestibular (awareness of movement, balance, and coordination)
- Interoception (our internal sensory system that tells us what is happening inside our body, for example, hunger, needing the toilet, fatigue, emotions, etc)
What is Sensory Integration Therapy?
Sensory integration therapy, which was developed in the 1970s by an OT, A. Jean Ayres, aims to help children with sensory processing issues or sensory integration disorder by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way. This will help the brain adapt and allow children to process and react to sensations more efficiently. Therapy sessions are play-oriented and may include using equipment such as swings, trampolines, and slides.
Sensory integration also uses therapies such as deep pressure, brushing, weighted vests, and swinging. These therapies appear to sometimes be able to calm an anxious child. In addition, sensory integration therapy is believed to increase a child’s threshold for tolerating sensory-rich environments, make transitions less disturbing, and reinforce positive behaviors.
Sensory integration therapy should only be provided by a specially trained and certified occupational therapist (OT) who has undertaken additional, rigorous postgraduate training in sensory integration. The OT will need to first assess if the child can benefit from sensory integration and formulate a “sensory diet”. A sensory diet is a program/treatment plan that is specifically tailored for each child depending on their sensory needs based on the assessment made by the OT. It includes not only things like balance treatments, movement therapy and structured exposure to sensory input but also carefully designed and tailored physical activities and accommodations They can be done in the clinic or at home depending on availability and preference.
What do sensory integration/sensory processing difficulties look like?
Imagine how it feels when the signals/information coming from our senses are too weak or too strong. It will make you feel either underwhelmed or overwhelmed. Children with sensory integration/sensory processing difficulties may experience the sensory inputs as overwhelming and upsetting, leading to ‘sensory overload’. Individuals may be over-sensitive to sensory input, under sensitive, or both.
All of us occasionally feel under or over-sensitive to sensory inputs; for example, music or bright lights may feel too much if we have a headache, we can feel uncoordinated or find it hard to focus if we are tired. These feelings are temporary and wouldn’t normally affect our day-to-day functioning in the long-term. For children with sensory integration/sensory processing difficulties it is long-term and has a big impact on everyday life and learning.
How can my child get sensory integration therapy?
If your child is experiencing some sensory integration/sensory processing issues and might need sensory integration therapy, your child needs to be assessed by a qualified OT. You can give us a call on (02) 4959 8920 to book an appointment. We are a NDIS registered provider and there are Medicare Rebates you can claim. We also have HICAPS where you can claim through your private health fund on the spot. You can check our funding options here.