Sensory Integration in Occupational Therapy
Pediatric occupational therapy is devoted to helping children develop the skills they need to perform everyday tasks, from eating and dressing to playing and learning. If you are new to occupational therapy, don’t be surprised if your child’s therapist asks you questions about their sensory system. This is because our sensory systems are vital to our participation in day-to-day activities. While you may be familiar with the 5 senses, hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste, you may not be as familiar with the internal senses of our vestibular and proprioceptive systems. These sensory systems are involved in everything we do. If we have trouble processing information in one or more sensory systems, it can have a huge impact on our ability to complete what we need and want to do. Occupational therapists are experts in what is called sensory integration or the process of organizing sensory information from the environment and the body in order to produce an appropriate response.
Sensory integration is crucial for your children to be able to effectively participate in their daily activities. When your child has difficulty processing and integrating sensory information, it can lead to a variety of challenges, such as difficulty with fine motor skills, difficulty with attention and concentration, and difficulty with social interactions. These challenges might pertain to challenges with taking in information from the environment including sensitivities to loud noises, avoidance of particular types of clothing, and covering their eyes in bright light. Sensory challenges can also pertain to difficulty processing input from their own body. This can look like constant movement, clumsiness, or fear of heights or movement.
One common type of sensory-based intervention used occupational therapy is Ayres’ Sensory Integration. When targeting sensory integration during sessions, the therapist will use a variety of activities to provide specific sensory input to the child. This sensory input might look like movement activities such as swinging, bouncing, jumping, or hanging as part of a game or obstacle course. Targeted sensory input can also look like playing in a sensory bin filled with different textures, getting creative with finger paints, or getting messy with shaving cream. The therapist will carefully observe the child’s responses to these activities and will adjust the activities as needed to help the child learn to process and integrate sensory information in a more effective way.
Your child’s occupational therapist will also work with you, as parents and caregivers, to support your child’s sensory processing in the home and community settings. Our goal is to not only support the child’s sensory processing during sessions, but to equip you as parents to understand your child’s sensory system and provide you with tools to make daily activities in the home and community easier.