The concept of “sensory integration” refers to the processing, integration, and organisation of sensory information from the body and the environment. It is how we experience, interpret and respond to the sensory information that we receive (Bundy & Lane, 2020). Our understanding of sensory integration is based on the work of Dr Occupational Therapist Dr A Jean Ayres (60s and 70s), and grounded in neuroscience.
Ayres defined sensory integration as “The neurological process that organises sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively with the environment.” (Ayres, 1972). It is based on neuroplasticity and the idea that our neurons and neural networks can change and adapt to new sensory messages, damage or dysfunction (Britannica Academic, 2022). It is assumed that this can occur from early childhood to later life, supporting our ability to adapt and maintain function within the context of our individual environment.
The Sensory Integration (SI) frame of reference helps us understand the interaction between the sensory systems including auditory, vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, and visual systems. This helps us make sense of how children learn and play by using adaptive responses to integrate information and survive constantly changing sensory environments (Schaaf et al, 2010). This supports successful engagement in daily occupations, from washing and eating to managing more complex social behaviours and relationships.
An SI intervention includes therapeutic equipment to provide sensory opportunities, often with multiple sensations (eg. tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive). Sensations are provided in a structured environment, graded to a greater or lesser intensity depending on the needs of each child. Sensory integrative abilities include sensory modulation, sensory discrimination, postural-ocular control, praxis, bilateral integration, and sequencing (Schaaf et al, 2010).
The intervention will differ depending on the identified sensory integration need, for example sensory modulation of the vestibular system (eg. swinging or rocking) may be used as a way to regulate other sensory systems. While developing skills through sensory discrimination may be used to improve skilled activity, for example tactile based interventions (eg. sensory bins) can support recognition of objects such as buttons for dressing. The outcome of successful sensory integration is the participation in daily life activities and will enhance fulfilment of the children’s roles and occupational needs.
Ayres A. J. (1972). Sensory Integration and Learning Disorders. Los Angeles, CA, Western Psychological Services.
Britannica Academic (2022) “Neuroplasticity.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 3 Sep. 2020. academic-eb-com.hallam.idm.oclc.org/levels/collegiate/article/neuroplasticity/442801. Accessed 3 Feb. 2022
Bundy, A. & Lane, S.J. (2020) Sensory Integration theory and practice. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.
Schaaf, R. C., Schoen, S. A., Roley, S. S., Lane, S. J., Koomar, J., & May-Benson, T. A. (2010). A frame of reference for sensory integration. In P. Kramer & J. Hinojosa (Eds.), Frames of reference for pediatric occupational therapy (3rd ed., pp. 99-186). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Questions for discussion during the OTalk:
What is your knowledge of sensory integration practice?
What is the role of sensory informed approaches for OT practice?
How can Occupational Therapists use sensory informed approaches in practice?
What are the barriers to implementing this approach and how can we overcome these?
What resources can we draw upon?
Host: Abigail Matthews @Abi21643842
Support on OTalk Account: @PaulWilkinson94
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