What does Sensory Integration include?

Sensory integration therapy focuses primarily on three basic (power) senses—tactile (touch), vestibular (movement), and proprioceptive (pressure).

Tactile System:

This system provides information to the brain about the various types of touch that includes light touch, different textures, pain, temperature and pressure. It plays a vital role in perceiving things around us and in the environment, and also serves as a protective reactions for survival.

Dysfunction in the tactile system can be seen in either the child seeking or avoiding certain kinds of touch or textures. The child can withdraw himself when being touched, or be a picky eater like refusing to eat certain 'textured' foods and/or avoid/like certain types of clothing, resistive behaviour while cutting hair, nails, or brushing teeth or washing face,does not like to be messy or fingers getting dirty, (i.e. by clay, while picking up textured food,mud, finger-paint), It also lead to a mis-perception of touch and/or pain (hyper- or hypo-sensitive) and may lead to decreased awareness of self in environment, irritability, distractibility, and hyperactivity.

Vestibular System:

The vestibular system or balance system refers to structures within the inner ear (the semicircular canals) that identifies various movement of head and body in plane or various directions. For example, the vestibular system tells you when your head is upright or tilted (even with your eyes closed).

Dysfunction leads to under or over active responses to vestibular input. Some children may be hypersensitive to vestibular stimulation (e.g., swings, slides, ramps, inclines) They may also have trouble in execution of movements needed to climb or descend stairs, ramps or ladders, and they may be apprehensive in balancing oneself on uneven surfaces.

On the other extreme, the child may be always occupied in actively seeking very intense sensory experiences such as excessive spinning around oneself, running in circles in a room, looking for spinning objects, or body whirling, i.e., they try to continuously gratify their vestibular systems.

Proprioceptive System:

The proprioceptive system refers to components of muscles, joints, and tendons that provide awareness of body position, joint or kinesthesia sense. For example, the proprioceptive system is responsible for mechanical corrections or adjustments needed by the body to function appropriately: consciously or subconsciously. It also allows us for manipulation of objects for gross and fine motor movements, such as climbing, jumping, pulling, pushing, and fine movements like typing, painting, writing, using a spoon to drink or eat, and buttoning or unbuttoning.

Some common signs of proprioceptive dysfunction are sloppiness and clumsiness, imbalance, wide base gait, a lack of awareness of body position in space, odd body posturing, difficulty in changing positions, walking backwards, crawling, and difficulty manipulating small objects (buttons, snaps),

Another dimension of proprioception is praxis or motor planning. This is the ability to plan and execute different motor tasks. When this system doesn't work properly dyspraxia occurs in which a children struggle with various activities involving motor planning in areas of self care, play, sports, and handwriting,


A child may be over or under responsive to sensory input so arousal level of the child in play will be high or low, hyperactive or hypotonic, energetic or lethargic, or can fluctuate between these extremes.

Gross and/or fine motor coordination problems are also common when these three systems are dysfunctional and may result in delay in speech/language and academic or scholastic areas. Behaviorally, the child may become easily irritable, impulsive, distractible, and show delay in motor planning. Some children may face difficulty in adjustments to new situations and may react with stimming, frustration, aggression, or self isolation.


Other Questions 

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How often does my child need Sensory Integration, and at what age should I start?

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Can I use Sensory Integration at home with my child; if so, how?

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