Therapy Blog: How sensory integration can help your child

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The sensory system

Have you ever had to turn down the volume on the radio to concentrate on parking your car? Ever forgotten your sunglasses and spent the day squinting because the sun was too bright? Or ever wished the sand stuck between your toes wouldn’t make wearing thongs so uncomfortable?

These are all experiences that relate to your sensory system. A system, power housed in the brain, that stems back to the days when humans had to rely on their senses to survive. The sensory system consists of vision, hearing, touch, smell and balance.

For many of us, these experiences are mildly irritating (at most) and they don’t impact our day to day lives too much. However, for some, including children, they can experience challenges with the way that their sensory system works to the extent that it impacts everyday activities.

What is sensory integration?

The process of the brain organising and interpreting experiences that relate to the sensory system is called sensory integration. If a child’s sensory system works a little differently, they may experience challenges with sensory integration. They could display some of the following.

  • Your child is overly sensitive to touch, movement, sights, smells, tastes and/or sounds. Children with neurobehavioral conditions can often have hyper-sensitive sensory systems. This means that they need less sensory input to function effectively. They can display behaviors such as withdrawal and avoidance which is their way of trying to reduce sensory input.
  • In contrast, some children are under-reactive to sensory stimulation. They may seek out sensory experiences and be prone to behaviours such as excessive movement or they may not feel physical pain such as from an injury.
  • Unusually high or low activity levels in comparison to their peers.
  • Coordination problems can be evident in activities that require fine or gross motor skills or children may have poor balance.
  • Speech language delays can be more evident in pre-schoolers however in school aged children they can be mistaken for academic problems.
  • Your child has poor organisational skills, they may be easily distracted or impulsive and find it difficult to stay "on-task" or to adjust to new situations that have not been planned for.
  • Sometimes a child experiencing challenges with their sensory system will say that some tasks are more difficult or that they don’t “feel right” for them but they're not sure why.

How Occupational Therapy (OT) can help

Occupational Therapists (OTs) teach children strategies to manage their sensory system and sensory integration so that they can focus on tasks better, learn and socialise in the world. Children who regain control over their sensory systems increase their ability to concentrate in the classroom, improve their social-emotional wellbeing and their ability to function in day to day activities. There is no one size fits all approach, so your Occupational Therapist will work collaboratively with you and your child to integrate sensory strategies into your daily routine.

If you’d like further information on how a Xavier Occupational Therapist can help your child manage sensory challenges, call our friendly team on 1800 XAVIER today or complete the simple form on our occupational therapy page and we'll be in touch.