Sensory Integration Disorder

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight, sound, and the pull of gravity. Sensory integration which is the ability to synthesize, organize, and process incoming sensory information received from the body and the environment to produce purposeful goal-directed responses provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behavior.

Sensory integration dysfunction is a term used to describe a person who has difficulty with the processing of sensory input. There are several types of sensory integration dysfunction.

Some of the symptoms of sensory integration dysfunction:

  • Overly sensitive or under reactive to touch, movement, sights, or sounds
  • Easily distracted
  • Social and/or emotional problems
  • Activity level that is unusually high or unusually low
  • Physical clumsiness or apparent carelessness, dislikes wearing clothes
  • Impulsive, lacking in self control
  • Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
  • Inability to unwind or calm self
  • Poor self concept
  • Delays in speech, language, or motor skills
  • Delays in academic achievement

Because the dysfunction varies so much, it can be hard to diagnose. It can also be mistaken for other disorders with some of the same symptoms, such as attention deficit disorder or autism. If a child is suspected of having a sensory integrative disorder, an evaluation can be conducted by a qualified occupational or physical therapist. Evaluation usually consists of both standardized testing and structured observations of responses to sensory stimulation, posture, balance, coordination and eye movements. After carefully analyzing test results and other assessment data along with information from other professionals and parents, the therapist will make recommendations regarding appropriate treatment.

If therapy is recommended, the child will be guided through activities that challenge his or her ability to respond appropriately to sensory input by making a successful, organized response.

Training of specific skills is not usually the focus of this kind of therapy. Adaptive physical education, movement education and gymnastics are examples of services that typically focus on specific motor skills training. Such services are important, but they are not the same as therapy using a sensory integrative approach.

One important aspect of therapy that uses a sensory integrative approach is that the motivation of the child plays a crucial role in the selection of the activities. Most children tend to seek out activities that provide sensory experiences most beneficial to them at that point in development. It is this active involvement and exploration that enables the child to become a more mature, efficient organizer of sensory information.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,