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So many children have sensory issues and many people are not as familiar with Sensory Integration (SI). Many Occupational Therapists (OT’s) are trained in SI work and use this in their treatment when working with all types of diagnoses.  There are 8 sensory systems: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, vestibular,  proprioceptive and interoceptive systems.

Everyone is familiar with the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.  Let’s take a look at the lesser known systems.

Vestibular

The vestibular system detects movement of the head and the pull of gravity. The sensory information is received through the inner ear and then interpreted in the brain. This system governs your balance and tells you whether you are right side up or upside down.

Children who have under-responsive vestibular systems seem to want to be constantly on the move, spinning, jumping and running.

Children who have over-responsive vestibular systems are scared of swings, elevators, and movement.

Proprioceptive

The proprioceptive system is input received through receptors in the joints and muscles with movement and heavy work. When these receptors are activated, body awareness is improved and the person knows where his/her body is in space.

Children who tend to crave proprioceptive input may:

  • over-stuff their mouth with food,
  • give hard high fives,
  • color with so much pressure the crayon breaks, or
  • crash into things.

Other children may:

  • hold a pencil so light that you can barely see it, or
  • the pencil won’t stay in their hand.
  • have poor body awareness and bump into things, or
  • have a low tolerance to pain and cry at even the slightest bump.

Interoceptive

The interoceptive sense works to regulate body temperature, emotional awareness, hunger, thirst, heart rate, the digestive system, as well as bowel and bladder functioning. When this system isn’t functioning properly, a child might have difficulty:

  • maintaining a consistent level of arousal;
  • maintaining body temperature; and
  • even learning toileting skills.

Because this system perceives input from many of our internal organs and constantly communicates with the central nervous system, it plays an important role in letting us know “how we feel” from one day to the next.(1)

Tactile

The skin is our largest organ and we have many receptors in our tactile system. So many children and adults are defensive to certain touch:

  • tags in the shirt,
  • walking barefoot in grass, and
  • touching sticky or gooey things.
  • don’t like light touch, as this can be disorganizing, or
  • want to touch everything in sight and
  • put everything in their mouth as a way to learn about that object.

Five Fundamental Facts about SPD

  • Sensory Processing Disorder is a complex disorder of the brain that affects developing children and adults.
  • At least 1 in 20 people in the general population is affected by Sensory Processing Disorder.
  • Studies have found a significant difference between the physiology of children with SPD and children with ADHD.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder has unique sensory symptoms that are not explained by other known disorders.
  • Heredity may be one cause of the disorder.

Preliminary research data supports decades of anecdotal evidence that occupational therapy is an effective intervention for treating the symptoms of SPD. (2)

As you read this, you may think “oh I have sensory issues too”.  I believe that everyone has sensory sensitivities and that we all can relate to certain things that bother us or annoy us like the ticking clock, the smell of a certain food, the itchy tag in the side of your shirt, or you get nauseated thinking of riding a merry-go-round. When a child’s function is impeded by their sensory issues and they are unable to get through the day without major meltdowns at the grocery store due to the bright lights, the noises and the overwhelming amount of stimuli, or they are constantly moving, jumping and spinning that they cannot sit still to learn a new task- that child needs to have a sensory program diet built into their everyday routine and your OT can help you design this.

References

(1) Zachry, Anne H., PhD, OTR/L. “What Exactly IS Sensory Processing Disorder? – Special-Ism.” Special-Ism.com, n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2014.

(2) Miller, Lucy Jane. Sensational Kids Revised Edition. N.p.: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 2014. Print.