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Sensory Integration, Sensory Occupational Therapy and SPD

 

Sensory Integration is the process by which the brain organises and interprets the information it receives from the environment (via the sense organs) and from inside the body. It provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behaviour.
For most children sensory integration develops in the course of ordinary childhood activities. But for some children, sensory integration does not develop as efficiently as it should. This is known as Sensory Processing Disorder [SPD] or dysfunction in sensory integration. SPD is quite a common disorder (occurring in about 10% of the population) and is particularly noticeable in children on the autistic spectrum and with other developmental disorders. Processing problems can occur across only one or two or across all of the following senses:

 

  • Vestibular - movement and balance sense

  • Tactile - Sense of touch

  • Proprioception - Sense of where the body is when not looking

  • Vision - What we see

  • Olfactory - What we smell

  • Gustatory - What we taste

  • Auditory - What we hear

 

This leads to a number of problems in learning, motor skills and behaviour.


Some signs of SPD include:

  • Physical clumsiness

  • Difficulty learning new movements

  • Activity level unusually high or low

  • Poor body awareness

  • Inappropriate response to touch, movements, sights or sounds

  • Poor self esteem

  • Social and/or emotional difficulties, lack of cooperation

  • Distractibility, impulsivity, limited attention control

  • Delays in speech, language and/or motor skills

  • Specific learning difficulties and/or perceptual difficulties

  • Poor self-care skills

  • Delays in academic achievement

 

 

Sensory Integration Therapy For Children


If a child is suspected of having SPD, an assessment can be carried out by a relevantly qualified therapist who has taken post-graduate training in sensory integration. Assessments usually consist of both standardised testing and structured observation of posture, balance and coordination as well as responses to their sensory environment.

Sensory integration (SI) therapy is a specific form of occupational therapy involving the use of suspended equipment in a sensory rich environment. It uses enhanced sensory in-put combined with planned motor out-put through which a child experiences success.


SI therapy aims to improve the way a child's brain responds to and makes use of sensory information and how this is used to plan, co-ordinate and organise movement. It is fun, motivating and highly enjoyable and has a positive effect on the child’s self-confidence and self-esteem.    


One important aspect of therapy is that the motivation of the child plays a crucial role in the selection of the activities. Most children tend to seek out activities that provide sensory experiences which will be beneficial to them at that point in their development. It is this active involvement and exploration that enables the child to become a more mature, efficient organizer of sensory information.

To the child and parent as an observer, the therapy session should seem like just playing. To the therapist it will be specifically designed to match and develop your child's nervous system needs.

 

Specific skills training is not usually the focus of this therapy approach. When using a sensory integration model, the aim of therapy is to address the underlying conditions, rather than teaching a specific task.


Combined with conventional occupational therapy approaches according to the needs of the child, SI therapy can have a significant impact on performance and lead to improvements in behaviour, concentration, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, personal organisation and speech, social and academic skills.

Sensory Integration assessment
The sensory integration assessment may take place as part of a wider Occupational Therapy assessment (according to the needs of the child) and involve both observation by the SI specialist and specific tasks and assessment tools for the child to complete (see occupational therapy assessments). The assessment may take up to 2.5 hours depending on the needs of the child. You will also be asked to complete a pre-assessment questionnaire. Because SI therapy is fun and motivational, children generally enjoy the assessment and engage willingly in the process. A report summarising the findings will be sent to parents after which there will be a further meeting to discuss next steps.

SI Therapy sessions
Following assessment of the child’s needs, therapy sessions of up to an hour’s duration may be recommended weekly for an initial block of 12 weeks. After this period, the child will be reassessed and further sessions recommended according to the progress made.

Recommendations for home and school
Parents will be given guidance on suitable activities to engage the child in at home between therapy sessions. The therapist can also make a school visit as required, to advise teachers on any suitable adaptions to the environment or specific teaching strategies/activities the child would benefit from.