What is Sensory Integration?

You are about to cross a busy street and see the sign for do not walk. You wait patiently on the curb and feel the crisp breeze. You hear the cars coming to a screeching stop and you see that the intersection is clear and safe to cross, followed by the walk sign appearing. You leisurely walk across the intersection, but notice the timer counting down. You hustle across before the light turns green. Your body just engaged in integrating visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive senses.

Sensory integration is one of the evidence-based practice approaches used daily by therapists at Eyas Landing. We are traditionally taught about five senses. In addition to taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell, we have vestibular and proprioceptive senses. Jean Ayres, founder of this theory, describes sensory integration as how a person organizes sensation in the brain for use in daily activities and occupations (1972). To optimize treatment outcomes, sensory integration treatment is individualized based on the child and family needs. The goal is for the child to use sensory information and to be an active participant in sensory integrative therapy.

Sensory Integration Language

When incorporating sensory integration into the treatment approach, a therapist might use words or phrases that you are unfamiliar with. Some of the essentials in understanding sensory integration are:

• Vestibular System
• The vestibular system provides information about head position and whether or not an individual is moving.
• Proprioceptive System
• The proprioceptive system provides information about body position in relation to an individual’s environment.
• Adaptive Response
• A child’s change in reaction due to a challenge in the environment.

Sensory integration difficulties are more common than most people think. Several research studies occurring between 1991 and 2009 found approximately 15% of individuals have difficulty with sensory integration. This means for every 20 children there are 3 children that have difficulties processing and integrating sensory-based information.

By Dr. Baily Zubel, OTD, OTR/L

Specific Research Studies
1. Wilbarger & Wilbarger (1991)
2. Ahn et al. (2004)
3. Ben-Sasson et al. (2009)
4. Reynolds et al. (2008)