Sensory integration therapy was developed initially by Dr Jean Ayres, an Occupational Therapist. She identified that there was a link between whether a child could achieve optimal occupational performance and their ability to integrate the information they got through their senses.
Most people are aware of the 5 most common senses: touch, smell, taste, vision and hearing. In addition to these there are 3 more:
Proprioception: The ability to know where your body is in space, without the use of vision.
Vestibular: The ability to move your head without falling over and to remain upright and balanced against gravity.
Interoception: This is a group of senses that tell us what is going on inside our bodies. They are things that we take for granted, such as knowing when we need to go to the toilet or when we feel hungry.
If a person has a problem at any stage of the integration of these senses this can impact on their ability to do the activities (occupations) they need or want to do.
There are 3 parts to the integration of sensory information and something not going quite right in any of these 3 parts can lead to sensory integration difficulties. These 3 parts can be compared to a computer sending information to a printer to be printed out.
Because Ayres Sensory Integration ™ is so focused on occupational performance (a person’s ability to do a task) it is closely linked to the skill set that Occupational Therapists develop through their training and work. This is why most sensory integration therapists trained in Ayres Sensory Integration™ are Occupational Therapist. It is possible for Physiotherapists, Speech and Language Therapists and Psychologists to train in this therapy as well.
So who benefits from Sensory Integration?
Lots of people have sensory integration difficulties, often without knowing it. In the olden days (20 years ago!) the children who were swinging on chairs, falling over in the playground and struggling with writing would often be classed as naughty or as having learning disabilities. In many cases these were actually symptoms of difficulties with sensory integration. Many people (up to 90%) who have a diagnosis of Autism/Asperger’s have some sensory integration difficulties.
Sensory integration is something which happens naturally throughout the neurodevelopment of a baby and child, from early on in the uterous up to about 7/8 years of age. If there is an issue at any point in this development, for any number of reasons, the child’s sensory integration development may stall.
Why does it matter?
Sensory integration is the foundation of all other development and learning for any child. For example, if a child is unable to know where their body is in space without moving it, they will be unable to remain still in class. If they are asked to stay still they will be focussing all their energy on doing just that. They will be unable to therefore attend to what the teacher is saying, following commands, interacting with their peers or any other aspect of the classroom. This has a detrimental impact on their learning and their social development. If a child does not get the correct information from their touch system, a label on the back of a shirt can feel like sandpaper on the back of the neck and this can result in the entire child’s attention focussing on the label. Again, this leads to difficulties with attention, learning and social interaction.