What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration is the organization of sensory information so that we may use it in an adaptive manner. This requires that the many parts of the nervous system work together allowing us to interact with the environment effectively and feel good doing it. 


Information on this website should not be construed as medical or therapy advice and is provided only as general information. Please consult your physician and other health professionals for specific advice.

skaterMy good sensory integration abilities

allow me to roller skate
as I quickly shift my
vision, adjust my body to accommodate the changing center of gravity, coordinate
moving my arms, legs and head, calculate my distance from other skaters, feel the skates squeezing my little toe and move to the music all at the same time.

Symptoms of Dysfunction in Sensory Integration
  • Clumsiness
  • Fine- motor difficulties
  • Craving movement
  • Fearful of movement
  • Language delays
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Picky eater
  • Crashing into things
  • Easily frustrated
  • Poor eye contact
  • Perceptual deficits
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Confuses right/left
  • Avoids crossing midline
  • Unclear hand dominance
  • Reading difficulties
  • Difficulties with
  • staying alert
  • Auditory processing problems
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulties with visual tracking
  • Low muscle tone
Activities that may lower arousal levels
  • Rolling up in a blanket
  • Wearing a Heavy backpack
  • Lifting Weights
  • Digging soil or sand
  • Rolling down a hill
  • Shoveling snow
  • Crawling through a cloth tunnel
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Ankle or wrist weights
  • Slow swinging
  • Rocking chairs
  • Slow rocking over a bolster
  • Merry-go-rounds
  • Sledding
  • Swimming
  • Running or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Skiing
  • Trampoline jumping
  • Sandwiching between two pillows
  • Pillow fights
  • Wrestling
  • Squeeze toys
  • Chewing gum
  • Chewing crunchy foods
  • Climbing
  • Slides
  • Sucking thick liquids through a straw
  • Scooter boards
  • Dim lights
  • Quiet music
  • Rolling on top of a ball
  • A small, cozy, cushioned corner
  • A warm bath
  • Pogo stick
  • Sit and Spin
  • A ball rolling up and down the body with deep pressure
  • Bean bag chair
  • Massage
  • Avoiding the mall
  • Warm soup

Activities that may raise arousal levels

  • Fast rocking
  • Fast swinging
  • Jumping games
  • Slides
  • Sledding
  • Running or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Fast bouncing
  • Loud, erratic music
  • Bright lights
  • Sucking on ices, juicicles
  • Light touch/tickles
  • Unevenly pitched speaking voices
  • Sour sucking candy
  • Lemon odor/flavor
  • Chewing gum
  • Using a ball seat
  • Cool shower,
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial Arts
  • Squeeze toys
  • Vibrating toothbrush
  • Wheelbarrow walking
  • Playing with pets
  • Somersaults

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Sensory Receptors Take in Information

listeningWe take in a lot of sensory information by
doing almost nothing, while sitting, looking
around and listening.  Eyes and ears are
sensory receptors. So are taste buds on the
tongue and the receptors in the nose that

smell the roses. The skin receives information all over the
body and receptors are abundant in the fingertips. In fact,
the finger tips are so smart they can read braille!

sledThe vestibular receptors located in the inner ear tell
us that we are moving and where our
center of
gravity is so that we can balance as we move. They

also tell us that the rolling
sea is making us just as nauseous
as the choppy home movies. 

These Activities Provide Vestibular Input

Going Up and Down

trampoline       seesaw 

In A Horizontal Direction

swing      skating
Or Rotary Direction

 balloon    merrygoround  tireswing       heartsoverlapping

dancingThe proprioceptive receptors in our muscles
and joints also send messages to the brain
to know how much force to use when cracking
an egg and to tie our shoes without looking at

them. The proprioceptive system helps us to maintain our
posture so that we don't droop like a noodle and to know
where our body is in space so that  we don't step on our
dance partners toes.

Children develop good sensory integration by actively
in activities, especially when using the
vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile senses.

How Is Dysfunction in Sensory Integration

Diagnosis of a Dysfunction in Sensory Integration is determined
by assessment which includes an interview or a written a checklist
of behaviors provided by the family, caregivers or teachers.
A therapist will typically observe the child in different settings
such as the classroom, recess, physical education class or at
home. No one symptom is enough for a diagnosis, but rather
a cluster of symptoms indicate a dysfunction.

Some typical questions on a checklist are:

Does your child prefer dim lights?           
Does your child crave movement?

Does your child avoid noise?                   
Does your child avoid walking barefoot?

Does your child get nauseous easily?     
Does your child prefer to play alone?

Is your child a fussy eater?                      
Does your child have difficulty sleeping?  

Standardized testing should address gross and fine-motor,
visual motor and perceptual skills. Examples of visual motor
skills include copying shapes, writing, drawing and copying
dot designs on a grid such as this. Please visit
Barbara's Perceptual Game for more information on perceptual skills. 


Examples of perceptual skills includes finding hidden shapes,
discriminating which shapes are facing
in the same direction,
completing puzzles and identifying objects in the hand without


This version of the Operation game involves picking a
card. Then the player feels inside the clown's
head to find the
matching three dimensional shape
using only tactile cues.
Games like this help to develop
tactile discrimination skills.

signingM signingo signingTsigningo   signingr
signingl  signinga signingp

Therapists also look at the ability to motor plan- that is to
execute novel movement and to use both sides of the body
in a coordinated manner. This can be assessed by asking
the child to copy body and hand postures (such as one hand
on the shoulder and the other hand on the head) and observing
the child as she negotiates an obstacle course, plays ball and
performs jumping jacks.

jumpingjacks   copyingpostures

Who Has Dysfunction in Sensory Integration?              

obstacle courseAlthough many children who have
sensory integration problems also
have an Attention
Deficit Disorder (ADD)
or (ADHD), they are different diagnoses
and having one does not mean that the
person has the other.  A medical doctor
or psychologist can make the diagnosis
of ADD. Many children with learning
disabilities also have sensory issues.
But again, they do not necessarily co-exist.
Problems in sensory processing are often

seen in children raised in orphanages or other institutions
where they did not receive proper early stimulation.

Sensory integration difficulties are often seen in individuals
with other
disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, brain
injury, Rett's
Syndrome, Lead Poisoning
and  psychiatric
disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizophr
fine-motor problems have become more prevalent as
spend more
time in front of television and computer screens
and have less and
less opportunities
for physical exercise.

How Is sensory Integration Treated?

Some children have difficulty with sensory "regulation",
"modulation" or "processing".  These terms mean that
the information from the environment is not being utilized
in a normal way. People need to screen out the meaningless
stimuli such as the clock ticking in order to focus on what is
important like the baby crying or the teacher giving out a
homework assignment. If a person can't inhibit stimuli he
may be in a constant state of fear, sensitivity and anxiety.
Such children can blow up when touched lightly on the
shoulder because they perceive light touch as a threat.

Some children are the opposite and need to be aroused to
participate in the world. They seem sluggish and crave
stimulation to make themselves alert. The goal of therapy is
to normalize the state of arousal and help the child meet
his sensory needs. Therapists try to do this by implementing
a Sensory Diet. This is a no calory diet that can help
children learn how to regulate themselves by understanding
their own sensory needs.

liftingweights squeezing  chewinggumjumpingrope  skiing  

Sensory Diet: What's on the Menu?

Let's think of the nervous system as an engine
that is running
either high, low or just right.
The person with the high running
engine is overly alert, agitated and defensive (touch may
especially upsetting). These individuals often benefit from
a diet rich in deep pressure
tactile, vestibular and
proprioceptive stimulation.  Heavy work activities provide
proprioceptive stimulation.  Some individuals find that
slow vestibular movement, such as
swinging, rocking, bouncing,
is relaxing and brings the engine down, especially before
bedtime. But these same people may be craving and benefit
from faster movement during
the day. There is some trial and
error involved in designing an individual's sensory diet.
Let the
child be your guide. An occupational therapist can help design
the sensory diet for
school and home which will help your child
do and feel his best.


©2008 Barbara Smith  

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