The Seven Senses

What the muscles and limbs are up to, and which way is up, are vitally important elements of sensory integration. You may not think of them when you're counting out the five senses, but you'll be hearing a lot about these extra two senses — the proprioceptive sense and the vestibular sense — as you pursue treatment for your child with sensory integration disorder.

Each of these seven senses will be discussed more fully later in this book, along with the way sensory integration disorder can affect your child's ability to use them effectively. But as a brief introduction, you may suspect your child has trouble with the following:

  1. The proprioceptive sense, or sense of body position, if he regularly bumps into things accidentally or on purpose; has trouble planning simple sequences of movements; jumps or rocks; likes hard hugs

  2. The vestibular sense, or sense of balance, if he either fears or craves swinging on a swing set; becomes upset when tipped backward; fears heights or having his feet off the ground; loves to spin around or rock back and forth

  3. The tactile sense, or sense of touch, if he has extreme reactions to clothing, combing, haircutting, dental work; doesn't react enough to pain, cold, discomfort; avoids hugs, tickles and cuddles

  4. The visual sense, or sense of sight, if he can't stand bright lights; feels agitated around bright colors or busy rooms; can't pick items out of a detailed picture or background or see how a puzzle goes together

  5. The auditory sense, or sense of hearing, if he has extreme reactions to sirens, alarms, vacuum cleaners; can't calm down in noisy rooms; doesn't hear or respond to your calls if there are too many other sounds in the room

  6. The olfactory sense, or sense of smell, if he has trouble telling the difference between smells; can't readily identify odors; has extreme reactions to certain smells; has no reaction to other strong smells

  7. The gustatory sense, or sense of taste, if he craves very strong, sharp, or sour flavors; refuses all but bland foods; can't tell the difference between foods; eats or sucks on nonfood items

The tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular senses are the “big three” for sensory integration problems. Other senses can't work properly if these three are not doing their jobs. For that reason, therapy with a sensory integration approach tends to focus on activities that target touch, balance, and body position. These will actually improve your child's abilities in all areas.

Since sensory integration involves receiving and interpreting information from the senses and combining the information to form a well-rounded and accurate picture, problems with one sense can cause problems with all sensory input and output. If your child is distracted by the way her clothing feels, it's going to affect her ability to listen and to see detail and to stay still. If your child feels off-balance, it's going to affect the way she sees things, coordinates her movements, and hears what you're telling her.

For this reason, it is important to look for patterns of behavior across senses, especially extreme over- or underreactions to sensory information; clumsiness and craving for jumping, crashing, spinning, swinging, and rocking; and an inability to distinguish important information from a lot of background distraction.

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  3. Introduction to Sensory Integration Disorder
  4. The Seven Senses
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