Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory Integration (SI) therapy is a specialized form of occupational therapy aimed at helping your child to better integrate and manage sensory input. It is based on the work done in the 1950s and 1960s by Dr. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist who believed that many learning and behavior problems arose from difficulties children had in responding and reacting to stimuli such as noises, light, touch, and movement.
Sensory integration plays a part in how well your child develops her motor and speech skills, emotional stability, attention, and behavior. Your child experiences the world through her senses such as hearing, vision, and touch. She needs to be able to accurately perceive and interpret what is going on around her, and screen out irrelevant distractions. When she cannot do that, it indicates a problem with sensory integration.
Research has found that up to 70 percent of children identified as having learning problems also have sensory integration problems. These problems are also seen in children with learning disabilities and attention deficits.
Signs of a Problem
The most distinctive symptom of a sensory integration problem is over- or undersensitivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds. Your child may recoil from being touched, or avoid textures, certain types of clothing, or foods. He may be so sensitive to light touch that routine self-care becomes difficult; for example, he may fight having his hair cut or washed as though it caused excruciating pain. He may exhibit fearful or aggressive reactions to ordinary movement of other children in play, or be easily frightened by loud noises.
On the other hand, your child may seem to crave enhanced sensory experiences. He may seek out intense physical experiences such as body whirling, falling, and crashing into objects. He may seem oblivious to pain or danger.
If your child complains that he cannot concentrate on reading or school work because of distractions in the classroom, or says that bright lights or glare from the paper interferes with his ability to focus on print, he may have sensory integration issues. SI training may improve his ability to function in the classroom environment.
Many other symptoms of sensory integration dysfunction overlap with symptoms of dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. These overlapping symptoms include unusually high or low activity levels, problems with balance and coordination, problems with handwriting, poor organization, difficulty following directions, and low self-esteem are all characteristics.
Because of these issues, you may find SI therapy useful in helping your child with dyslexia overcome behavioral or motor control issues that are problems at home or at play.
What Therapy Entails
SI therapy is given by a specially trained occupational therapist or physical therapist. The goal is to help your child overcome his aversions and become more tolerant of his environment through exposure to stimuli through play and physical activities. Techniques may include deep brushing, swings for vestibular input, contact with various textures, bounce pads, scooter boards, or weighted vests and other clothing.
The therapy is always highly individualized and child-directed. The therapist will allow your child to select among activities and tailor the program to your child's response. To your child, a therapy session or practice activities at home will seem like play. The therapist gently guides your child toward activities geared to improve his processing and organization of sensations.