Sensory integration is when the body receives sensory information from external stimuli and organizes it, allowing us to interpret what sensations are essential and unnecessary. When someone experiences sensory integration difficulties, they have trouble deciphering between the two. This can make it difficult to attend to a task or not feel overwhelmed by an environment. Three senses mainly involve tactile, proprioception, and vestibular senses (although auditory and visual senses are included). These three senses are interconnected and allow us to interpret our environment and its stimuli. Understanding how stimuli affects us mentally and physically is crucial to living in harmony with your environment.
Our tactile senses allow us to interpret pain, touch, pressure, and temperature. When the tactile senses are not working properly, individuals may be sensitive to light touch, avoid certain textures of food or feelings of clothing, have an aversion to being unclean, and use fingertips instead of their whole hand to manipulate items. Understanding how the body reacts to tactile stimuli is essential for an individual to understand how their bodies and minds work, giving them the tools to understand themselves.
Proprioception is a mental process in which the mind perceives the body in the context of physical space or simply feeling in one’s body. If proprioception is not working correctly, an individual’s motor skills may suffer, potentially making them seem oblivious to others. Faulty proprioception may also make someone a messy eater, create difficulty manipulating small objects, and remove the desire to engage in new motor movements. There is nothing worse than a body and brain disconnect, the feelings of disorientation can make simple things complicated. Getting used to these stimuli and understanding how they affect an individual can lead to a more balanced interpretation of what the stimuli are.
Vestibular senses allow for accommodation to changes in our head’s positioning. These sensations are controlled by structures in our inner ear. If the vestibular system is not working correctly it may cause hypersensitivity to everyday movements including jumping, swinging, sliding, etc. It may also cause fear for activities like climbing or even simple things like stepping over or down from a curb. It could also cause the opposite issue. An individual can be hyporesponsive to changes in head positioning and would therefore seek out additional vestibular experiences such as intense jumping, spinning, and other high-intensity experiences in their daily lives. It is essential that individuals experiencing a disconnect with their vestibular senses understand such, and become familiar with common stimuli and how their body reacts to them.
Sensory therapies utilize sensory activities including Lycra swings, brushing, sensory bins, obstacle courses incorporating climbing, jumping, sliding, etc in order to facilitate improved sensory processing and ability to modulate those experiences to maximize participation in daily activities/occupations. (Karim & Mohammed, 2015; Kashedimehr, Kayihan, Huri, 2017)