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Sensory Integration is the ability for our brain to receive, process and make an appropriate response when given sensory input. Our ability organizes the information received through our sensory system and is what is commonly referred to as sensory integration. Sensory input refers to information provided to our body through 8 systems. These systems are what allow us to learn, move, protect ourselves, and build skills to maintain in life.

There are 8 sensory systems:

  • Vestibular (awareness of movement, balance, and coordination)

  • Interoceptive (our internal sensory system that tells us what is happening inside our body, for example, hunger, needing the toilet, fatigue, emotions, etc)

There are a wide variety of factors to go into how and when a child develops sensory processing disorder or difficulty with modulation.

Everyone has certain sensory preferences but how a child learns and when to integration their sensory systems can depend on:

  • Developmental Delays

  • Integration of Reflexes

  • Birth history

  • Gross/fine motor delays

  • Neurological differences

  • Comorbidity associated to a variety of diagnoses

What is the difference between Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing?

Sensory Integration: This is based on A Jean Ayres. Dr. Ayres introduced the idea that certain people’s brains can’t do what most people take for granted: process all the information coming in through seven — not the traditional five — senses to provide a clear picture of what’s happening both internally and externally. 

Sensory Processing Disorder: This is based upon a model from Dr. Lucy Miller in 2006; based upon Dr. Ayres original model.

These terms often get used interchangeably; it can be based upon where a therapist was trained and their frame of reference for a specific situation.

Both terms refer to how our bodies are “integrating” the 8 sensory systems.

Common Signs of System Integration Disorder:

  • Clumsy

  • Tantrums and/or difficultly calming down

  • Mood swings

  • Avoiding loud noises

  • Seeking lots of input (such as running, jumping and climbing)

  • Picky eater

  • Difficultly with transitions

  • Difficultly with unexpected sensory input (sleeves of shirt getting wet with hand washing)

  • Avoiding busy setting (play dates can be difficult)

Is SPD a stand-Alone Diagnosis?

Sensory Processing Disorder is not an official diagnosis. This diagnosis is often associated with a diagnosis such as autism, ADHD, and learning disorders. There is a subset of the childhood population that have SPD without another diagnosis. It is just not used as a medical diagnosis and does not qualify children for additional help in most school systems on its own.

How Common is SPD?

One 2009 study, found that 1 in every 6 children has sensory processing issues that makes it hard to learn and function in school. Other studies have found that 66% of autistic children (65-90% of autistic children, depending on the research study), and 32% of children with special education needs (who were not autistic) show definite differences in sensory behaviors. 

What is Sensory Integration Therapy?

The goal of sensory integration therapy is to help children with SPD or sensory processing issues by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structure, in a repetitive way. The theory behind it is that over time, the brain will adapt and allow kids to process and react to sensations more efficiently. Sensory integration therapy works to help children understand what their sensory systems are and how to process the information to make a productive responsive. Therapist's that provides sensory integration therapy have been specifically trained in SI. It is typically an Occupational Therapist but can be a PT, SLT or child development specialist.  


Sensory Processing Issues in Children | Child Mind Institute

What is Sensory Integration? ( 

Integration Therapy Explained | Understood

Sensory Integration Therapy Explained | Understood

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