What is Sensory Integration?
Throughout our everyday activities, our brain is efficiently processing the things we see, smell, and touch. The way our mind reacts to these various senses is typically developed throughout our childhood. That’s why so much attention is paid to sensory development in children – it is a key indicator of whether or not they may have a sensory processing issue. These children may have more trouble than others with filtering and interpreting information taken in by the senses. For example, a light that’s normal to you may appear blindingly bright to your child. Or the sound of the fire alarm blaring may actually be painfully loud to your child.
Jenna Harper, MS, OTR/L, from the Southeastern Therapy for Kids clinic in Haygood, VA, breaks down exactly what sensory integration is and shares activities that can help.
Sensory integration is an innate neurobiological process and refers to the integration and interpretation of sensory stimulation from the environments to the brain. Sensory integration focuses primarily on three basic senses: tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive. These three senses are interconnected and start forming before birth and continue to develop as a person matures and interacts with the environment.
The tactile system includes nerves under the skin’s surface that send information to the brain. This includes light, touch, pain, temperature, and pressure.
Activities that can help develop the tactile system:
- drinking carbonated water or soda
- shaving cream, soap, or sand play
- mixing cookie dough and cake batter with hands
- playing with rice or bean bins
- playing with play-doh
- eating frozen foods
The vestibular system refers to structures within the inner ear that detect movement and changes in the position of the head. Vestibular input can be obtained by spinning and swinging or any type of movement.
Activities that can help develop the vestibular system:
- hanging upside down
- rolling down a hill
- swinging (spinning and linear)
- doing cartwheels
- doing summersaults
- riding on merry-go-rounds
The proprioceptive system refers to components of muscles, joints, and tendons that provide a person with a subconscious awareness of body position. Motor planning is also a part of this system. Motor planning is the ability to plan and execute different motor tasks. Proprioceptive input can be obtained by lifting, pushing, and pulling heavy objects as well as engaging in activities that compress or distract the joints.
Activities that can help develop the proprioceptive system:
- jumping on a trampoline
- playing hopscotch
- carrying books
- helping wash windows/tables
- doing chair push-ups
- wearing a weighted vest
- playing tug-of-war
- playing leapfrog
- using wiggle seats
- using rocking chairs
- body squeezes
- play wrestling
- pushing someone on a string
- cooking tasks such as scooping dough or rolling dough
These activities, plus many more, can help make a child’s sensory integration more efficient by targeting the three critical senses (tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive). If your child is oversensitive or undersensitive to their environment, they may be showing signs of sensory processing issues. Southeastern Therapy for Kids is part of the Ivy Rehab Network and has specialists that can help. To view all of the Southeastern Therapy for Kids locations, visit www.IvyRehab.com/SPTkids.