Sensory Integration Therapy

sensory therapyDeveloped in the 1960s by occupational therapist and researcher Jean Ayers, Ph.D., sensory integration therapy is a process by which children build and strengthen the connections within the brain that most young people develop through childhood experiences. Therapy is designed to help children interpret sensory input, understand its relevance, and respond – especially to external stimuli that are often beyond their control.

For example, a child may be asked therapy to pick up an object such as a ball. Though the child sees the ball, and understand what it’s used for, he or she may not be able to recognize or describe the ball because of visual miscues. The child may also inaccurately perceive the weight or texture of the ball due to over-sensitivity, or lack of sensitivity, to touch.

The senses are:

Vision, Auditory (Hearing), Olfactory (Smell), Tactile or Somosensory (Touch), Oral (Taste), Vestibular Processing (unconscious information obtained through the inner ear for equilibrium, position in space and gravity), Prioprioception Processing (unconscious information obtained by the muscles and joints regarding your position in space, the weight of objects, the pressures felt, the stretch, body movement, and position changes)

A child’s sensory processing is problematic if they are:

Over-responsive – avoidance, caution and fearful

Under-responsive – withdrawn, passive or difficult to engage

Sensory seeking – impulsive and takes risks

The goals of sensory integration therapy are:
  • Determine how a child’s specific sensory perceptions affect their overall physical, social and human development
  • Identify and eliminate barriers caused by disordered perception
  • Implement new sensory processing approaches that organize multiple sensations, filter out background stimuli, and compensate for deficits in perception
  • Restore a child’s sense of body position and function (also known as vestibular and proprioception)
  • Restore motor planning (praxis) capabilities, so a child can focus on his or her senses to plan movement, respond to other’s movements, and understand the body’s relationship to space
  • Encourage activities that allow children to explore their environment, learn and develop their senses
  • Assist children with perception issues in sorting out mixed messages
  • Create a physical environment that fosters participation in activities that depend on the senses
  • Some signs that a child might be struggling with his or her sensory perception include:
  • Strong reactions to textures, food and sound
  • Discomfort sitting or standing
  • Feeling too hot or too cold
  • Over-sensitivity, or under-sensitivity, to touch
  • Little reaction to external events
  • High, or low, physical activity levels
  • Lack or physical coordination
  • Inappropriate physical responses
  • Inability to link a task with the necessary physical function
  • Restlessness and behavior issues
  • Reclusiveness
  • Speech delays
  • Low self-esteem
 How does Sensory Integration Therapy works?

By providing coping strategies and treating the condition, therapists help children overcome these issues that, at least initially, may seem insurmountable. Success is achieved by implementing treatment that will help children build the mental and physical framework within their nervous system to properly perceive sensory input, regulate his or her responses, and understand the significance behind a particular, texture, movement, or sound.

All of these skills must be mastered for a child to maximally benefit from other therapies.

Benefits  of sensory therapy are numerous, and far-reaching.

  1. Lessen sensory defensiveness
  2. Develop positive behavior patterns
  3. Correctly interpret sensory input
  4. Minimize input intolerance
  5. Eliminate fear
  6. Reduce negative physical reactions
  7. Create physical equilibrium and sense of space
  8. Encourage play and socialization
  9. Anticipate action and outcome

Because most people develop sensory perception unconsciously, it’s difficult to understand how sensory deficits affect an individual. Therapy allows children with sensory deficits to interpret stimuli, plan actions, and response.

Therapy also improves a child’s modulation, or ability to regulate neural messages in such a way they can respond to stimuli appropriately. The benefits of therapy are often physical, but also psychological.

The physical benefits of therapy include:
  1. Hand-eye coordination
  2. Improved motor-planning
  3. Gravitational security
  4. Posture
  5. Balance responsively (over responsively and under responsively)
  6. Improved sleep cycles
  7. Language development
The psychological benefits of therapy include improvements in:
  1. Socialization
  2. Procrastination
  3. Moodiness
  4. Restlessness
  5. Emotional outbursts and frustration
  6. Confidence
  7. Attention
Process of Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy begins with a thorough evaluation and assessment of a child’s sensitivity to environment. This assessment is comprised of interviews with a child’s parents or caregivers, a health history, standard tests and observation in a clinical setting. The goal is to determine where deficits in a child’s sensory perception are and what interventions will help a child adapt and react to their environment.

A therapist will administer the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT). During the assessment, the therapist will evaluate:

  1. Reaction to touch, sounds and textures
  2. Body positioning in relation to space and objects
  3. Movement perception
  4. Motor planning (praxis)
  5. Planning and sequencing actions
  6. Modulation
  7. Existing sensory-seeking behaviors
  8. Visual perception and eye movement
  9. Eye-hand coordination
  10. Spontaneous activity and play

The therapist will determine activities that encourage organized responses to sensory input. Activities are practiced in a repetitive and continuous fashion so children can learn and retain the process. They learn how to self-regulate their responses, achieve a comfort level with sensations, and understand how the senses work collectively.

Sensory integration therapy is often disguised as “fun” for the child. The goal of therapy is to allow children to explore in an unencumbered environment that allows them to fine-tune their interpretations and responses. For example, a child that is uncomfortable with rough surfaces may play with grains of rice, so he or she can get used to its texture – which in turn neutralizes his or her discomfort with the sensations.

Therapy is ultimately successful when the child realizes the value of the outcome enough to continually use the learned process.

Other activities may involve:
  • Neon, patterned and florescent papers
  • Colored, strung, flahsing, holiday and strobe lights
  • Wind socks, wind-up toys, activity boxes and age-appropriate mobiles
Auditory (Hearing):
  • Water – fountains, faucets, waves, and waterfalls
  • Machines – lawn mower, washing machine, dishwasher and microwave
  • Music – radio, instruments, and chimes
  • Repetition – clocks, rap and drums
  • Instruments – drums, piano, guitar, keyboards and tambourines
Olfactory (Smell):
  • Air fresheners – lavender, pot pouri and sachets
  • Aromatherapy – candle and incense
  • Beauty aids – lotions, powders and perfumes
  • Vegetation – flowers and plants
  • Baking and cooking – breads, cookies, stews, bacon, onions and cabbage
  • Environments – bathrooms, kitchens, garages and locker rooms
Tactile or Somosensory (Touch):
  • Hard – rock, counters and floors
  • Soft – cotton ball, fur and feathers
  • Surfaces – picky, sticky, rough, pointy and smooth
  • Textures – sand, water, and paints
  • Items – beans, rice, beads and bolts
  • Interaction – stationary, pliable, moldable, bendable and breakable
  • Vibration – dryer, hair blower and blender
  • Pressure – push, tickle, rub, claw, pressing, pulling, holding and squeezing
Oral (Taste):
  • Fruits – strawberry, blackberry, grapes and bananas
  • Milk-based items – Yogurts, milk shakes and ice cream
  • Hot and cold items – Soups and popsicles
  • Candies – hard candy, soft candy, sour candy and licorice
  • Condiments – jelly, honey, spice and peanut butter
  • Cheese – Feta, cheddar, cottage and blue cheese
 Vestibular Processing:
  • Standing on one foot and standing on one foot with eyes closed
  • Throwing a ball
  • Shaking the head
  • Bouncing on bed, ball or parent’s knees
  • Swinging in blanket, in swings, or on a rope
  • Sommersaults and hand stands
  • Turning head left and right at rapid pace
  • Walk heel to toe without support
  • Sliding
Prioprioception Processing:
  • Swinging
  • Dancing
  • Playing in boxes filled with balls, beans
  • Crawling through tunnels
  • Hitting balls
  • Spinning on chairs
  • Balancing on floor or beam
  • Rolling or crawling on a rug
  • Jumping, bouncing

The therapist will monitor a child’s progress to make sure he or she is reaching pre-determined goals. At the conclusion of therapy, a child should exhibit more comfort with stimuli that was previously bothersome.