What is Sensory Integration?
- In layman’s terms: Everything we feel or experience, from wind on our face to driving a car is processed in our brain. If a child has an unusual response then their brain isn’t processing what they feel or experience well.
- In layman’s terms: When a kid wants to participate in sensory play (to them it is just play), they adjust how they are playing based on what they are experiencing/feeling.
When occupational therapists like myself and other professionals talk about sensory processing, we are referring to 7 senses: gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), auditory (hear), tactile (touch), vision, proprioception (deep pressure/body awareness), and vestibular (movement). However, The theory focuses on tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive input, which will be described in more detail below.
With every one of the 7 sensory systems, kids (and adults) process that information on a range that is unique to each child and can change overtime or throughout the day. However, most kids tend to process the input they are receiving in similar ways.
We see children start to have difficulty interacting, paying attention, behaving, sleeping, and/or eating when they are processing sensory input at one of the ends of the range. On one end of the range is being sensitive to a particular sensation or an entire sensory system. That would mean your child avoids those types of input.
At the other end of the range kids may under process the input and SEEK that type of input. Still some kids seem not to even register the input, it’s like they don’t even feel it. We call that Low Registration.
What is Tactile, Vestibular, and Proprioceptive Input?
- How does a feather feel compared to a piece of sandpaper.
- How we sense or perceive movement. We stimulate our vestibular system when riding on a swing, riding in a car, jumping up and down, etc.
- How we are able to sense where our body’s are in space. We stimulate our proprioceptive system through the deep pressure input we receive in the joints throughout our body. This occurs when we walk, run, jump, get or give a hug, etc.
Some Important Tips
- Generally speaking, it is better to avoid light touch and provide firm touch, especially if your kid is sensitive to touch.
- Take into consideration light, odor, and noise in the environment. it may be helpful to play soft music, eliminate strong smells, or dim the lights. Conversely, some children may need fast paced music, strong smells, or bright lights to focus.
- A child’s sensory needs may change from day to day. They may respond well to being wrapped up in a blanket during one session and run from it the next. Always respect a child’s boundaries in relation to sensory activities (i.e. never force a child’s hand into finger paint if they are tactile defensive, even if you are tricking them).
What is a Sensory Diet?
- A sensory diet is sensory activities provided to a child at particular intervals throughout the day to help them respond more effectively to their environment. It should be dynamic in nature, changing with the child, ultimately giving them a tool to modify sensory input.
- A sensory diet should be implemented by an OT.
- Sensory diet’s often allow children to be able to be more alert or calm so that they can complete school activities or daily routines such as meal-time or playing with peers/siblings.
Your child’s sensory needs aren’t written in stone. Remember that they may change, and by providing them with the support they need through various sensory activities you will see the behaviors diminish, as their sensory systems will be more regulated and organized.
Have another sensory activity that your child enjoys? Please share!