The brain responds to a variety of sensory stimuli from the environment, such as vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory and gustatory inputs, which are integrated and processed in the brain to produce appropriate (motor) responses. Children with weak integration and processing of sensory information may experience frequent falls, poor force control, impulsivity, emotional ups and downs, poor concentration, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, delayed language development, fidgeting, frustration, aggressive tendencies, and talking too closely to others.
The key to fostering the sound development of the child's sensory integration is to provide them with ample opportunities for sensory stimulation and rich motor experiences, so that they can enhance their physical abilities, develop emotional stability and organize their plans through meaningful sensory activities.
Sensory integration is a theory developed by Dr. A. Jean Ayres of the University of Southern California in the 1970s based on neurophysiology and neuropsychology and is a common reference framework in the professional field of pediatric occupational therapy. The tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive nervous systems are particularly relevant to the development of the child's sensory integration.
The program comprises three main sensory stimuli: tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular. The therapy is incorporated into play, whereby different forms, intensities and frequencies of sensory stimuli are provided according to children's condition in order to improve their overall condition. For example, if a child's attention span is limited, it may be due to a lower arousal level. This can be enhanced by running and jumping activities, spinning on swings, hanging upside down, etc. to increase their arousal level, and improve their concentration.
Tactile system: Related to the child's ability to recognize tactile sensations and sensations of temperature, pressure, pain and vibration; the input of tactile stimuli can help improve emotional stability, reduce anxiety and promote fine motor skills.
Vestibular system: detects changes in head position and maintains balance and coordination of body posture. The input of vestibular stimuli affects the child's visual perception, spatial perception and sense of direction, auditory and language development, arousal level and concentration, muscle tone and motor development, as well as mood and sleep.
Proprioceptive system: helps children to identify body position and the speed, force and direction of body movements. Proprioceptive input can enhance children’s attention, memory, frustration tolerance, impulse control and self-care, as well as improving their sleep quality and regulating their vestibular and tactile over-reactivity.
Sensory integration dysfunction affects a wide range of conditions and symptoms may include:
- Over-responsiveness to visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular inputs (e.g. not liking to be touched or felt, afraid to play on swings, afraid of unexpectedly loud noises)
- Under-responsiveness to visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular inputs (e.g., spinning in circles, jumping from heights)
- hyperactivity and distractibility (e.g., inability to sit still, incessant movement)
- Low arousal level, poor concentration (e.g., sloppy, absent-minded)
- Low or high activity levels
- Interpersonal and emotional problems (e.g., irritability, stubbornness, tendency to conflict with others)
- Difficulty changing environments or situations (e.g., easily scared, nervous, anxious, fearful)
- Poor motor co-ordination (e.g. falls frequently, has difficulty cutting paper or holding a pencil)
- Language and hearing development problems (e.g., slurred speech, delayed language development, difficulty understanding)
- Low academic achievement (e.g. difficulty with reading, writing, calculating, dislike of school)
By furnishing parents with an in-depth explanation of the concept of sensory integration in the Sensory Integration Precision program, parents and teachers can create the right environment to help their children grow up healthy and happy.