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Sensory Integration Disorder

Sensory Integration Disorder occurs when the brain is not capable of processing or organizing the flow of sensory impulses well enough to give someone good, precise information about himself or the world.   An excess amount or not enough input may be received during a situation.  As a result, the brain becomes confused and is not able to direct behavior properly and effectively. 

Typically, a child may be over sensitive to stimuli involving the senses such as : noise, light, taste, touch, and motion. On the other hand, a child may  be under sensitive in the areas of temperature, pain and pressure.  This  poses an increased risk of injury related to burns, cutting oneself, or falling.  It is not uncommon for a child to be over sensitive, under sensitive, or a combination of both.    As a result, a child often feels uncomfortable about himself.  He cannot cope with ordinary demands and stress.  It is like a "traffic jam" in the brain, states A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D.  


Signs & Symptoms (from:  A Parent's Guide to Understanding Sensory Integration)

  1. Overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds:  Irritability or withdrawal when people touch child or stand nearby, avoidance of certain textures of clothes (elastic or tags) or foods, fearful reaction to ordinary movement activities, such as those found on a playground, strong aversion to hair or tooth brushing, irritability with elements like wind/sun/lights/noises.

  2. Under-reactive to sensory stimulationSeeking out intense sensory experiences such as body whirling or crashing into objects, oblivious to pain or body position.

  3. Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low:  Constantly on the move or may be slow to activate and fatigue easily.

  4. Coordination problemsBrain not organizing messages with hands & eyes  (seen in gross or fine motor activities),  unusually poor balance, accidentally breaking objects, stumbling or falling out of chair...clumsy-like, inability to color between lines, use scissors, paste 2 papers together,  immature play as witnessed by inability to build with blocks, do puzzles etc.

  5. Delays in speech, language, motor skills, or academic achievement:  Might be able to hear sufficiently, but words are not processed in the brain correctly,  may know what they want to say but can't direct mouths to say the words.

  6. Poor organization of  behavior:  May be impulsive or distractive and show lack of planning in approach to tasks, difficulty adjusting to a new situation or change in routine, may react with frustration, aggression or withdrawal when encountering failure.

  7. Poor self concept Not playing skillfully with other kids, child may be aware that some tasks are more difficult for him than for other children, child doesn't feel quite right, may appear lazy, bored, unmotivated.

  8. Problems in school:  Difficulty getting along with teachers and classmates due to inability to build lasting friendships.  Child may become angry or strike back if accidentally bumped by another child while standing in line.  Child may be easily distracted due to lots of people, noises, lights, fast pace, multiple directions from teacher.  A hyperactive child may "jump" all over the classroom not because he wants to, but because his brain is out of control.   Difficulty copying words from blackboard.  Hands, body, eyes, and ears may not integrate properly so child may not respond adaptively with hearing or feeling.  Child may miss details.  Difficulties in reading, writing, math.



Occupational  & Physical Therapists can be very effective in treating children with sensory integration disorder by focusing on the following areas to either "arouse" or "calm" the body:

  1. Proprioception:  Muscles and joints  perception of self in relation to space... contracting & stretching of muscles...bending, straightening, pushing, pulling, lifting, deep pressure.

  2. Vestibular:   Body's relationship to gravity which involves the inner ear.  Affects  balance, equilibrium and position of head in space...spinning in circles , swinging, jumping up and down or feeling vibrations.

  3. Tactile:   Sense of touch or movement of hairs on skin...pressure, temperatures, pain, messy play, textures.

  4. Sight:  Hand-eye coordination, midline activities.

  5. Sound:  Following multiple step directions.

  6. Visceral:   Internal organs, blood vessels...blood pressure, digestion, breathing...relaxation techniques.

If the body can interpret sensory input in a more efficient manner, the better a child will be able to feel about himself.  This will, in turn, carry over onto learning and academics!

Sensory Integration Disorder is easier to treat at the preschool level through "play" therapy.  Once a child gets older, it can be more challenging, due to the structured classroom environments.

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     last updated  05/23/2013                                 Back Next