Children with sensory integration dysfunction frequently experience problems with their sense of touch, smell, hearing, taste and/or sight. Along with this will often be difficulties in movement, coordination and sensing where one's body is in a given space. This is a common disorder for individuals with neurological conditions such as an autism spectrum disorder. Individuals may be overly sensitive to certain textures, sounds, smells and tastes, while wearing certain fabrics, tasting certain foods, or normal everyday sounds may cause discomfort. The opposite is also possible - for example a child with an autism spectrum disorder may feel very little pain or actually enjoy sensations that neurotypical children would dislike: strong smells, intense cold or unpleasant tastes.
The brain seems unable to balance the senses appropriately in cases of Sensory Integration Dysfunction. This involves therapy with the child placed in a room specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. During the session, the therapist works closely with the child to encourage movement within the room. The therapy is driven by four main principles:
*Just Right Challenge (the child must be able to meet the challenges through playful activities)
*Adaptive Response (the child adapts behavior to meet the challenges presented)
*Active Engagement (the child will want to participate because the activities are fun).
*Child-directed (the child's preferred activities are used in the session.Children with lower sensitivity (hyposensitivity) may be exposed to strong sensations, while children with heightened sensitivity (hypersensitivity) may be exposed to quieter activities. Treats and rewards may be used to encourage children to tolerate activities they would normally avoid.
The theory of Sensory Integration (SI) was developed in the 1960s by Dr. A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist who was a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities. She defined SI as the body’s capacity to organize sensory input, information and stimulation a person receives from his/her own body and the environment through the different sensory systems:
*proprioceptive (joint and muscle impulses)
*vestibular (movement, visual, auditory)
*hearing and listening/auditory
This sensory information is then processed by the central nervous system and is used to help our body develop spatial awareness, muscle tone, postural stability and self-regulation. SI gives us the awareness of our body and the ability to use it as a tool to interact with others in our world.
*For those with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, the brain is not processing and organizing the flow of sensory impulses properly. This can impact on a person’s functional, developmental and learning processes.
*Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights or sounds
*Decreased awareness of surroundings
*Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
*Impulsive, lacking in self-control
*Inability to unwind or calm self
*Social and/or emotional problems
*Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness
*Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
*Delays in speech, language, or motor skills
*Delays in academic achievement
*Slow reaction to touch, movements, sights, or sounds
A Typical SI/OT Session
– To provide the right kinds of sensory stimulation for normalizing the sensory systems.
– Tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, auditory, and visual.
– To provide the optimal state of alertness and attention.
– To develop an adaptive response for daily functioning.