Sensory Integration is one of those "hot button" names. If you telephone your insurance company and announce that your child has been diagnosed with it, they will react as though you got the diagnosis from your local Ouiji board practitioner.
"Oh, we don't cover that," my (lovely) insurance company told me. "That's experimental."
Oh dear. Experimental? Well let's look into it. I'm sure that if it's experimental it's pie-in-the sky, right? Probably not pragmatic at all.
I'm going to meander through a discussion of what Sensory Integration is, but in the meantime, check out this great site, put together by the mother of a child with Sensory Integration. She does an awesome job and I refer you to her for most information. Also see Mom's OT Page for information on occupational therapy and a partial listing of resources.
The Origins of Sensory Integration as a Diagnosis
The sensory integration diagnosis was developed by A. Jean Ayres, who was both an occupational therapist and an educational psychologist. Think about this for a minute because it's important. It's also not something that you'll find often in doctors. Typically the neurologist looks at the neurological stuff, the neuropsychiatrist looks at the neuropsychiatric stuff, and the OT is off in the corner, like a glorified dental hygienist or garage mechanic, working on the "physical" stuff.
Ayres did what medicine should be doing a lot more of. She combined the background and perspective of two fields of medicine, and in doing so, she brought more context into her observations. The following excerpt fuller version here is a very good overview of sensory integration. (Note that proximal means "nearest to the point of attachment" and distal means "located distant to a point of attachment." Both are anatomical terms, but are used in this case to talk about senses.)
- One of the most distinctive contributions that Ayres made to understanding child development was her focus on sensory processing, particularly with respect to the proximal senses (vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive). From the sensory integration viewpoint, these senses are emphasized because they are primitive and primary; they dominate the child's interactions with the world early in life.
The distal senses of vision and hearing are critical and become increasingly more dominant as the child matures. Ayres believed, however, that the body-centered senses are a foundation on which complex occupations are scaffolded. Furthermore, when Ayres began her work, the vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive senses were virtually ignored by scholars and clinicians who were interested in child development. She devoted her career to studying the roles that these forgotten senses play in development and in the genesis of developmental problems of children.
A basic assumption made by Ayres (1972b) was that brain function is a critical factor in human behavior. She reasoned, therefore, that knowledge of brain function and dysfunction would give her insight into child development and would help her understand the developmental problems of children.
However, Ayres also had a pragmatic orientation that sprang from her professional background as an occupational therapist. She was concerned particularly with how brain functions affected the child's ability to participate successfully in daily occupations. Consequently, her work represents a fusion of neurobiologic insights with the practical, everyday concerns of human beings, particularly children and their families.
Put Simply, What Does Sensory Integration Mean?
Children's senses develop at different rates. Some kids have problems with one or more senses, and with getting things like visual and motor abilities to work together. These problems can be helped by various therapies. How much they can be helped depends on how extreme your child's problems are.
Sensory Integration Websites
If your child squints to read, of course you go to an optometrist. What you might now know, however, is that there are several different types of vision problems and several differerent types of vision doctors.
Here is a checklist for whether or not to get your child a vision exam.
Here are some of the problems that can be improved with listening therapy:
- Learning disabilities and dyslexia
- Difficulties processing and retaining auditory information
- Difficulty following directions
- Reading comprehension problems, spelling, handwriting
- Monotone voice or sing/song voice
- Central auditory processing difficulties
- Easily distracted by sound
- Overly sensitive to sound
- Low energy level and lack of confidence
- Vestibular problems, including balance and coordination
- Difficulty with communications and social interactions
- History of ear infections or middle ear fluid
- Hearing loss related difficulties
- Self-esteem, mood, and motivation
I was particularly impressed when my child's OT told me that listening to a therapeutic CD could help my child's vestibular problems. Wow.
There are several programs:
Auditory Integration Training is one. Here are some notes on it.
[This page is under construction. See the OT page for more.]
The Alert program helps teach kids how to "run" their bodies and themselves differently.