Sensory Integration Disorder
The link between the way the brain works and a person's behaviour is sensory integration. This occurs naturally in most people. After receiving sensory information about things through your five senses as well as from pain or the position of your body, your brain captures this information and reacts to your environment correctly.
Difficulty processing information from the senses is sensory integration disorder or dysfunction. The brain puts information together incorrectly from the body's senses.
Sensory integration disorders typically appear in young children. Children with sensory integration disorder display problems in learning, development and behaviour.
Sensory Integration Therapy is a form of occupational therapy in which special exercises are used to strengthen the person’s sense of touch (tactile), sense of balance (vestibular), and sense of where the body and its parts are in space (proprioceptive). These 3 types of sensory input traditionally comprise the cornerstone of the SI approach.
Tactile is the sense of touch, and is especially regulated through the more sensitive skin areas such as the hands, feet, mouth and head. It tells us about texture, size shape and temperature and helps us distinguish between threatening and non threatening touch sensations.
Proprioception is an umbrella term for the sense of body position and is involved in body awareness in space, planning and coordinating movements. This is also connected to emotional security and confidence. Proprioceptive input is sent to the brain through receptors in the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments.
The Vestibular system is made up of sense receptors in the inner ear, as well as the fibres of Cranial Nerve VIII (Vestibulocochlear) connected to the internal brain structures. This determines the quality of balance and movement. It provides information about gravity and space, balance and movement, and about our head and body position in relation to the surface of the earth.
The ability to modulate sensory input through these three systems has a powerful impact on the development of functional skills. They affect how we regulate our muscle tone, balance, motor control, postural stability, visual perception, visual motor control, auditory language skills and attention. Sensory Integration Therapy appears to be particularly effective for helping patients with movement disorders or severe under- or over- sensitivity to sensory input.
If we look at the vestibular system in particular we can see that people with vestibular sensory integration problems often have difficulties coping with their environment. Engaging children in simple activities for both the overactive and under active vestibular system allows them to grow up into healthy adults.
Certain conditions such as autism and attention deficit disorder respond well to sensory integration therapy and improve the life of a person with either of these conditions.
A professional trained in this area should be consulted for the best outcome.
The Vestibular System
Our sense of balance is determined by vestibular sensations. The part of the ear that is not responsible for hearing make up the vestibular system. This system detects our orientation to gravity and our movement through space even in the dark. The vestibular system helps us maintain our equilibrium while we spin, rock, sway or bend.
Additional vestibular system functions include muscle tone, and language. Changing head positions, shifting your weight, and using both sides of your body develop a good vestibular system.
Over Sensitive To Movement
Children with overactive vestibular systems prefer slow movement, avoid risk-taking (such as climbing frames in the playground) and avoid activities that require good balance and fast movement. They are fearful of falling, elevators, going up and down stairs and being tipped upside down. There are many activities that children can engage in to help an overactive vestibular system. Some of these include gentle swinging on a swing, moving heavy objects, ‘tumbling’ or rolling down a gentle slope, slow repetitive rhythmic movements such as Tai Chi, water aerobics or swaying in a rocking chair or rocking horse. Firm pressure on the body from hugs and compression devices also help (please seek advice from a trained professional).
Under Sensitive To Movement
These children enjoy fast spinning and swinging. They are always jumping, running and moving. They enjoy taking part in dangerous activities and move whilst sitting.
Activities suggested for these children will help their brains organize and process information more efficiently and effectively by activating the vestibular system. This will help prevent them from falling, keep body parts properly aligned, and contribute to coordinated movement.
Outdoor and indoor swings give children of every age the vestibular activity they need. Rocking toys are calming and will help a child that becomes over active with movement and other stimuli. Bouncing on a large ball improves balance. Monitor the child during any vestibular activity. Watch for signs of over-stimulation.