Understanding Sensory Integration (SI) or Sensory Processing (SP)



What is Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing?


Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing, in simple terms, is the ability of the brain to respond effectively to the environment by assimilating, processing and integrating the various sensory inputs received by different organs of our body. Various sensory organs in our body have receptors that pick up information from the environment around us and transmit them to the brain where they are processed. These processes take place within our nervous system without us even being aware of them.


To understand the concept better, let’s take a look at the various senses;


  • Proprioception- is the sense of movement or the locomotion sense.

  • Vision- is the sense of sight or ocular sense.

  • Auditory- is the sense of hearing.

  • Tactile- or Tactual Sense is based on the perception of touch- for example pain and temperature.

  • Vestibular-is the sense of balance or spatial orientation.

  • Olfactory- is the sense of smell

  • Gustation or Taste-is the sense of taste.


All of us possess these individual senses which the different receptor organs transmit to the brain. However, the ability of the human brain to process these various individual processes into a seamless thread or functional output differs from individual to individual. And this is why we react differently to the same stimulus in the environment.


In children, the sensory integration or the under-development of the same is all the more pronounced as they are still grasping the various senses and their brains are still growing. Further, they have not yet been influenced by extraneous factors such as education, societal norms and social conditioning –factors that shape us as we grow.


What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Integration Dysfunction?


Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD occurs when the received sensory information cannot be decoded properly by the brain affecting the functional output. Or in other words the received sensory signals cannot be transmitted into the desirable behavioural or motor response.


SPD can affect children and even adults in different ways. For some it may just affect one sense- for example the sense of touch in the form of over or under-sensitivity to hot and cold; or the motor skills which makes it difficult for them to play and master any sports. For others it may affect their total behavioural disposition and their ability to interact with their family and peers.


SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder can be further classified into;

- Sensory Modulation Disorder – where the individual seeks constant sensory stimulation

- Sensory Based Motor Disorder- where he has poorly developed motor skills

- Sensory Processing Disorder – where there is difficulty in paying attention and lack of organisation.


The Link between SPD and Autism 


Lot of people assume that Autism and SPD are the same. Autism and SPD are however different disorders though they share a number of similar characteristics and it may be possible that a child in the Autism spectrum also suffers from delayed Sensory Processing. Though medical research is still not conclusive, it has been found that genetically the same set of individuals are predisposed to suffer from both disorders as they are both neurological disorders. In fact majority of the children diagnosed with Autism are also diagnosed with SPD and treating autism usually resolves SPD.


Handling Sensory Processing Disorder


It is important to remember that most children with SPD are as or even more intelligent than their friends. They only need time and space to do things at their own pace and adapt to the environment.


Correct diagnosis of SPD is necessary after which the standard treatment includes a program of Occupational Therapy (OT) with a Sensory Integration (SI) approach. The OT is aimed at training the children to respond appropriately to environmental stimulus and participate more effectively in the normal day to day childhood activities and routine like their friends.


Therapy is of course the best way forward for kids with SPD. But parents and caregivers have a responsibility too. They need to be sensitive to the child’s condition and strive to provide him with an environment which is full of stimulus, all the time gently encouraging him to do normal activities and enjoy their childhood.


References for this article include:

- SPD Foundation- http://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html

- Autism Key- http://www.autismkey.com/sensory-processing-disorder-and-autism/

- Sensory Processing made Simple- http://sensoryprocessingmadesimple.com/are-autism-and-sensory-processing-disorder-sensory-integration-dysfunction-the-same-thing/



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