Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration Dysfunction/ Sensory Processing Disorder

Children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction many times have little identifiably wrong with them. Teachers often describe them as a little slow moving, not having much to say, and never letting their feet come off the ground. These children often find it hard adjusting to kindergarten. In addition, children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction have difficulty with transitions, have weak motor skills, and struggle making it through the day.

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What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory Integration is the neurological organization of all our senses. Most people are familiar with the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. In addition there are three more, sometimes called hidden senses: the tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses. The tactile sense gives us information about texture, shape, and size; it also helps us differentiate between dangerous and non-dangerous touch sensations. The proprioceptive sense gives us information from the muscles, joints, and ligaments about weight or pressure, stretch, movement, and changes of position in space. The vestibular sense gives us information about gravity and space, balance and movement, and our body position.

These senses are often working properly in children at a very young age. Their brains receive information through each of the senses, process it, and allow them to react to incoming stimuli. Children’s physical, behavioral, emotional, and intellectual responses depend on proper integration of all their senses. Sensory Integration is the basis for moving, learning, speaking, and interacting with our surroundings. However, some children have inefficient neurological systems. Since their brains do not process sensory information properly, their development is irregular and their involvement in preschool activities is inconsistent, reluctant, and clumsy. Children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, find performing routine tasks and responding to everyday events extremely challenging.

Children with tactile dysfunction may react negatively or emotionally to touch displaying anxiety or aggression. They may also appear irritable or fearful when others are close. Shampoo, socks, kisses, finger paints, and certain foods may bother them. Children with proprioceptive dysfunction may have trouble interpreting sensations from their muscles and joints. They may be clumsy and/or tackle everything or everyone in sight. In addition, they have trouble grading and may exert too much or too little pressure on objects, squeezing pets and breaking toys. Children with vestibular dysfunction may be oversensitive or undersensitive to movement. They may hesitate to take risks or play on fast moving playground equipment some days and then seek out those activities on other days. They may also have difficultly balancing on one foot and coordinating their eye movements. In addition, they may have speech and language problems.

Children with improper neurological and sensory processing function lack the development of the fundamental skills upon which more advanced intellectual and motor skills are built. The effective organization and processing of sensory information is crucial for the development of these essential skills. Early intervention, such as occupational and/or physical therapy can help children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction. Pediatric occupational and physical therapy have a broad mission: to help children with motor, sensory, and behavioral problems learn to perform purposeful activities. Therapy improves the functioning of a person’s nervous system, which may be damaged or inefficient. Young children have flexible neurological systems, which can respond and benefit from therapy.

How to identify preschoolers with uneven neurological development?

Most adults, including pediatricians, parents, and teachers are unfamiliar with the characteristics and clues of this subtle dysfunction. It may be inferred that a child’s misbehavior, low self-esteem or hesitation to participate in normal childhood experiences is due to hyperactivity, learning difficulties, or emotional problems. Few people understand that disorganized behavior is often related to a disorganized neurological system. Just as hearing and vision screenings are used for early detection of problems, early investigation of developmental unevenness has become important and beneficial. When children who puzzle their teachers and baffle their parents show up as having disorganized neurological systems in their evaluations, the ability to identify and treat a problem is quite a relief.