We have seven senses that work hard to manage sensory input from our environments. Most of us were taught the familiar five senses in school: Gustatory (taste), Olfactory (smell), Vision (sight), Auditory (hearing), and Tactile (touch). We also have two other senses that play a very important role: Vestibular (sense of movement through space/changes in head position) and Proprioception (sense of self-awareness/body position and muscle movement).
Sensory integration is the brain’s ability to take in information from all of our senses and use that information to make a functional response. Sensory integration occurs when the brain receives information from the environment and registers the incoming information, assigns importance or meaning to that information and then uses that information to make an adaptive response to the environment. Most children are able to effectively integrate the information from all of their senses through typical childhood experiences. However, for reasons that we are not always able to explain, some children have difficulty doing this.
Difficulty effectively taking in, organizing, interpreting and using information from our seven senses to interact in and respond to our environments may manifest itself in a variety of ways including difficulty with the following:
- Motor skills (gross and fine motor)
- Activities of daily living (eating, sleeping, dressing, bathing, grooming and hygiene)
- Emotional regulation
- Social appropriateness
We all have sensory needs! Identifying a child’s difficulties and providing slight adaptations and modifications may make all the difference and could help improve his or her learning and behavior.
An occupational therapy evaluation may be warranted when a child’s sensory needs are interfering with his ability to successfully perform his occupation (performance at school, play and with self-care skills). We look for a cluster of behaviors that frequently occur and that interfere with the child’s performance.