Sensory integration is the process by which we receive information through our senses and transfer them to the central nervous system. The brain arranges the gathered data, combines it, rejects unnecessary data so that the body is able to function properly.
Child’s inappropriate behavior can result from sensory integration dysfunctions. Both hypersensitivity and low sensitivity to touch, movement, smell, sounds are considered as symptoms of such impairments. Other signs of sensory integration dysfunction include hyperactivity, dullness, problems with movement coordination, problems with both small and large motor skills, speech development dysfunctions, learning difficulties, behavioral problems and low self-esteem.
As a result of sensory integration dysfunctions, children may face problems with:
- sensory modulation (excessive or insufficient response),
- perception (either faulty or distorted perception, for example of images),
- vestibular system (problems with maintaining balance, clumsiness),
- motor planning (problems with planning sequence of movements, reaction, foreseeing effects of particular movement).
Sensory integration is based on all senses of human body. Besides the most known ones, there are also senses that we might not be aware of. These include the sense of touch, sense of balance and proprioception.
Sense of touch allows to recognize the shape, texture and temperature of surrounding objects. Thanks to sense of touch, we are able to feel the gust of wind on our faces, scorching sunrays, hits, thrusts and touching of hand. Receptors hidden in our skin warn us about occurring danger with pain, but at the same time can also bring release and calmness when the touch is gentle and pleasant.
The vestibular system (sense of balance) is located in the inner ear. It allows us to coordinate the movement of body, head and eyes as well as maintain balance. Thanks to sense of balance, we are able to walk up a flight of stairs, walk through the curb, balance our body after tripping or being shoved as well as while swing on a swing.
The proprioceptive system uses all receptors in our muscles, joints and tendons. Proprioception allows us to control movement and body position in terms of position of different body parts towards each other. It also allows us to control the pressing force from our muscles and the bending angles of, for example, knees or elbows.
All these senses work independently but are also able to cooperate upon delivering full information to the brain.