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Sensory Processing Integration

Child with a band on eyes during sensory

What is sensory processing/integration?


Sensory Processing Integration  is the effective registration (and accurate interpretation) of sensory input in the environment (including one’s body). It is the way the brain receives, organizes and responds to sensory input in order to behave in a meaningful & consistent manner.


Children who  have difficulty processing sensory information 

have what is known as Sensory Processing Disorder.


What are the building blocks necessary to develop efficient

sensory processing/motor integration?


All the sensory systems need to work together for effective sensory processing. It is

important to recognize that there are in fact 7 senses that make up the sensory system

and it is these sensory systems that process information as the building blocks to many other skills.


  • Visual sense: is the ability to understand and interpret what is seen. The visual system uses the eyes to receive information about contrast of light and dark, color and movement. It detects visual input from the environment through light waves stimulating the retina.


  • Auditory Sense: is the ability to interpret information that is heard. The auditory system uses the outer and middle ear to receive noise and sound information. They receive information about volume, pitch and rhythm. It is important for the refinement of sounds into meaningful syllables and words.


  • Gustatory Sense: is the ability to interpret information regarding taste in the mouth. It uses the tongue to receive taste sensations, and detects the chemical makeup through the tongue to determine if the sensation is safe or harmful.


  • Olfactory Sense: is the ability to interpret smells. It uses the nose to receive information about the chemical makeup of particles in the air to determine if the smell is safe or harmful.


  • Tactile sense: is the ability to interpret information coming into the body by the skin. It uses receptors in the skin to receive touch sensations like pressure, vibration, movement, temperature and pain. It is the first sense to develop (in the womb), and as such is very important for overall neural organization.


  • Proprioceptive Sense: is the ability to interpret where your body parts are in relation to each other. It uses information from nerves and sheaths on the muscles and bones to inform about the  position and movement of body through muscles contracting, stretching, bending, straightening, pulling and compressing.


  • Vestibular sense: is the ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance. The vestibular system uses the semi-circular canals in the inner ear to receive information about movement, change of direction, change of head position and gravitational pull. It receives information about how fast or slow we are moving, balance, movement from the neck, eyes and body, body position, and orientation in space.


How can you tell if a child has problems with Sensory processing/integration difficulties?


If a child has difficulties with Sensory Processing they might:


  • Have poor attention


  • Demonstrate inappropriate behavior


  • Being overly active or very lethargic


  • Have difficulties in learning and retaining learn skills


  • Be unable to manage crowds or group settings


  • Show immature social skills


  • Suffer from heightened anxiety



How can you tell if my child has problems with sensory processing/integration? 


If a child has difficulties with sensory processing they might:


  • Show heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement.


  • Be under-reactive to certain sensations (e.g. not noticing their name being called, being touched, high pain threshold).


  • Appear lethargic/disinterested; appearing to mostly be in their ‘own world’.


  • Have difficulty regulating their own behavioral and emotional responses; increased tantrums, emotionalreactive, need for control, impulsive behaviors, easily frustrated or overly compliant.


  • Be easily distracted, show poor attention and concentration.


  • Have poor motor skills; appears clumsy, has immature coordination, balance and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills.


  • Have poor sleep patterns.


  • Display restricted eating vestments or is a picky eater.


  • Become distressed during self-care tasks (e.g. hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoe laces, self-feeding).


  • Love movement; seeks out intense pressure (e.g. constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing inobjects/people).


  • Avoid movement based equipment (e.g. swings, slides etc).


  • Appear floppy or have ‘low muscle tone’, tire easily and is often slumped in postures.


  • Performs tasks with too much force, has big movements, moves too fast, writes too light or too hard.


  • Have delayed communication and social skills, is hard to engage in two-way interactions.


  • Have difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks.


  • Have difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.


Why should I seek therapy if I notice difficulties with sensory processing/motor integration?


Therapeutic intervention to help a child with sensory processing difficulties is important to:


  • Ensure the child is able to engage in learning tasks.

  • Enable the child to be able to develop appropriate social interaction, behavior and play skills.

  • Allow the child to cope in busy environments.

  • School transition may be difficult if they are unable to follow instructions within the educational setting (e.g. classroom instructions, academic task requirements).

  • Because children do not ‘grow out of’ sensory issues, rather they change and adapt as necessary with varying degrees of success.


What type of therapy is recommended for sensory processing / motor integration difficulties?


Diagnosis alone is NOT the solution. It simply opens the door to getting the help that is needed by arming all involved with the relevant information. 


If your child has difficulties with sensory processing/motor integration difficulties, it is recommended they consult an Occupational Therapist.

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