Sensory integration is a theory and a therapy approach developed in the 1960s by Dr A. Jean Ayres, an American occupational therapist and neuroscientist. She explored the association between sensory processing and the problems children encounter in every day life with learning, development, emotions and behaviours.
Sensory integration is the neurological process of organising the information we get from our bodies and the world around us for use in every day life. This occurs in all of us, all day long without us being aware of it. The main task of our central nervous system is to integrate the senses, our brain is primarily a sensory processing machine. Our senses (movement, touch, body position, sight, taste, hearing and smell) give us information from our body and the world around us. Sensory integration is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of that information. This ‘integration’ or processing allows us to make sense of the world around us and function well within it. It allows us to respond to the situation we are experiencing in a purposeful manner and lays the foundations for academic learning and social behaviour.(back to top)
Our senses give us the information we need to function in the world. We are familiar with the five senses of touch, sight, taste, hearing and smell which respond to information from outside our bodies. We also sense information that we are less familiar with from within our bodies about movement and body position, as well as sensations from our internal organs, interoception.
Most of us are born with the ability to constantly manage sensory messages and organise them into the right, organised response or behaviour. For individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder the sensory signals don’t get organised into appropriate responses. This can lead to disruption in the individual’s daily activities, learning, emotional state and social interactions. In fact it can interfere with everything we do as human beings.
Sensory processing problems are often poorly understood, although it is estimated that these difficulties are seen in about 5 % of the typical population. Many teachers and professionals are not aware of these difficulties or how they may impact upon a person’s ability to learn, concentrate, attend, participate in activities. Consequently behaviour is often misunderstood, for example, telling a child in class to sit still when they are rocking in their chair or fidgeting.
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"All teachers need to attend this course! I wish I had known about this years ago - this should be included in teacher training courses."
Class Teacher, Mainstream Primary School
Sensory Processing Disorder is the most recent term used for a condition that was first recognised in the 1960s by Dr A. Jean Ayres. It was originally called sensory integration dysfunction or sensory integration disorder.
Individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder/Sensory Integration Dysfunction may present with some of the following difficulties:
- Avoids touch or being touched by objects and people
- Has difficulty standing in line or close to other people
- Dislikes having hair, fingernails or toenails cut
- Avoidance of certain textures
- Touches people and objects to the point of irritating others
- Seeks out all kinds of movement and this interferes with daily routines (eg can’t sit still, fidgets)
- Spins/twirls self frequently throughout the day
- Takes excessive risks during play
- Fear of heights and movement
- Distress with certain sounds
- Sensitivity to light
- Aversion to certain smells and tastes
- Disregard of sudden or loud sounds
- Unaware of pain
- Unaware of body sensations such as hunger, hot or cold
- Lack of attention to environment, persons or things
- Has coordination problems
- Has difficulty planning motor tasks
- Attend a course such as ‘Introduction to Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing Disorder’
- Arrange in service training for your organisation
- Visit our links and resources page for further information