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- Sensory Integration Disorders
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What Is Sensory Integration?
Sensory integration refers to how people use the information made available by all the sensations coming from within the body and from the external surroundings. We generally think of the senses as separate outlets of information, but they in fact work jointly to provide us with a trustworthy image of the world and our position in it. Our senses join together to form a total understanding of who we are, where we are, and what is going on around us. Since our brain uses information about sights, sounds, touch, smells, tastes, and movement in an organized way.
We give significance to our sensory encounters, and know how to respond and conduct ourselves accordingly. Walking through a crowded store, if one smells a powerful scent, one is able to identify it as a candle or essential oil and realize that one may be near the candle section.
For most of us, sensory integration happens every day without conscious notion or effort. Let's say you're cleaning the house and talking with your child. You stay focused on your conversation and hear all the fascinating details of the latest episode of iCarly. You may find that you've completed cooking the meal without realizing it. You certainly didn't have to think about stirring the ingredients, or how much water to add to the pot. You just cooked it. That's how good you are at using your senses to function adaptively. Of course, if something sudden happens, say, you notice it needs salt, your senses would hone and focus on this information. Otherwise, no big deal – just another day, another meal to cook.
For others, however, sensory integration occurs inadequately. People with SI dysfunction have great trouble deciphering out what is going on inside and outside their bodies, and there's no assurance that the sensory information they're working with is correct. In reaction, a child may avoid confusing or upsetting sensations – or seek out more of the sensation to find out more about it. For example, a child who has difficulty integrating tactile (touch) input may avoid horrible touch experiences such as getting his hands messy with paint, sand, or glue, while another child may want such touch input and vigorously seek it out.
If you had SI dysfunction, cooking would be extremely tough, even risky, as you'd have to think so much about what you're doing. That same walk past the crowded store might be so upsetting that the smell might overpower you to the point where you become disgusted and distressed and have to leave the area right away.
For most children, sensory integration skills build up naturally. As children find out about new sensations, they become more secure about their skills, improve their ability to respond to sensory experiences, and are consequently able to achieve more and more. A baby scares and bawls when a fire engine speeds past piercing a siren, but years later when that baby is a teenager, the same blare might cause him to just cover his ears as he stares at the fire engine go down the street. As an adult, this person may just stop talking with a friend until the fire engine goes by. As sensory processing skills mature, vital pathways in the nervous system get sophisticated and strengthened, and children get better at managing life's challenges.
For some children, sensory integration does not develop efficiently because they can't rely on their senses to give them a correct image of the world, they don't know how to react in response, and they may have difficulty learning and conducting themselves appropriately. The vital first step toward helping your child with sensory issues is to develop empathy for how he/she experiences his/her world.