Sensory processing (sometimes called “sensory integration” or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.

It is an unconscious process in the brain (occurs without us thinking about it – like breathing). It organizes information detected by the senses (taste, sight, hearing touch, smell, movement, gravity, and position). It gives meaning to what is experienced by sifting through all the information & selecting what to focus on (such as listening to the teacher and ignoring the noises of the traffic outside)

It also allows us to act or respond to the situation we are experiencing in a purposeful manner (known as an adaptive response). The adequate integration of sensory information forms the underlying foundation for academic learning and social behavior.

(Sensory Integration and the child, AJ Ayres)

Indicators for therapeutic intervention for Sensory Integration difficulties

“Some problems, such as measles, broken bones or poor eyesight, are obvious. Others, such as problems underlying slow learning and poor behavior, are not obvious. Slow learning and poor behavior in children are often caused by inadequate sensory integration within the child’s brain. These sensory integration problems are not obvious, yet they occur among children throughout the world . . . . . . . . “(AJ Ayres)

Red flags:

  • Slow reach of developmental milestones such as rolling, crawling, walking, etc.
  • Behavioral difficulties – frequent temper tantrums, controlling behavior, difficult to adjust to change.
  • Avoidance of playground equipment
  • Preference for sedentary play
  • Poor motor control (running, learning to hop and jumps, limited climbing, poor pencil grasp and inadequate pencil control, etc.)
  • Lashing-out behavior – often biting, scratching, slapping and kicking other children.
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Inability to follow instructions and complete tasks independently

Ayres, A., 2005. Sensory Integration and the Child, 25th edn. Los Angeles: Western Psyychological Services.

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