Sensory differences and impairments are addressed through occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach.
Sensory integration (SI) is an approach to occupational therapy that seeks to normalize the organization of sensory input and permit adaptive responses to that information. The concept of sensory integration comes from a body of work developed by Jean Ayres, Ph.D., OTR. As an occupational therapist, Dr. Ayres was interested in the way in which sensory processing and motor planning disorders interfere with daily life function and learning. This theory has been further developed and researched by other occupational and physical therapists. In addition, literature from the fields of neuropsychology, neurology, physiology, child development and psychology have contributed to theory development and intervention strategies. Sensory experiences include touch, pressure, movement, sight and sound. These basic sensory systems form the foundation for body awareness enabling us to form a mental body map, and know where our bodies are in space. The process of the brain organizing and interpreting multi-sensory input is called sensory integration. It is a crucial foundation for more complex learning and behavior.
For most children, sensory integration develops in the course of most childhood activities. The ability to adapt to incoming sensations is a natural process of childhood development as is motor planning. Often sensory integration difficulties are a significant component in autism and other communication disorders.
The degree to which a child's neurology has successfully mastered sensory integration can also affect activity levels, a child's ability to unwind or calm himself, attention, impulsivity, and clumsiness, among other things. Children with sensory integration deficits often seek out certain types of sensations while being extremely hypersensitive (and aversive) to others.
When children have deficits in body awareness, muscle tone, and coordination, motor planning is generally impaired. Improved sensory processing leads to more productive contacts with people and environments. Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect a child to be socially or behaviorally appropriate when he lacks awareness of where his body is in space, or how to efficiently use his body, or if the sensations of normal experience overwhelm him.