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What is Sensory Integration Therapy?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Sensory integration therapy is a type of therapy typically used to treat sensory integration dysfunction. Sensory integration dysfunction, also sometimes called sensory integration disorder (SID), is a neurological condition in which the brain is unable to adequately process sensory input in a productive way. Sensory integration dysfunction can cause a range of behavioral, developmental, and learning problems in children, even in children who enjoy average or above-average intelligence. Sensory integration therapy generally seeks to provide appropriate sensory input, beyond what the child encounters in ordinary daily life. This additional input can gradually help the child's brain learn to process sensory input.

Infants and children are normally surrounded by large amounts of new sensory input. The first several years of a normal child's life are generally spent learning to process many types of stimuli, including sights, sounds, and touches. As children learn to process sensory input, they generally gain a clearer understanding of how their bodies function and how they can interact with the world.

Children who suffer from sensory integration dysfunction typically suffer from neurological problems that prevent the adequate processing of information. These children may be overly sensitive, or not sensitive enough, to sensory input. As a result, they often display delayed development of motor control, speech, and appropriate behavior. They may be clumsy, impulsive, hyperactive, or under-active, or easily distracted. They often have social and academic problems.

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Sensory integration therapy is a type of physical therapy designed to help children with sensory integration dysfunction learn to process sensory input. Most children with sensory integration dysfunction have problems processing specific types of sensory input. A sensory integration therapy program is typically tailored to a child's individual needs. The typical program of therapy seeks to offer supplemental sensory input in those areas that present the most difficulties for the child. The therapeutic program can vary widely, depending upon the unique limitations of the individual child's brain.

Occupational therapy generally forms an important part of sensory integration therapy. Children with SID may benefit from specialized physical exercises to help improve motor skills, or from music therapy to help improve listening skills. Various kinds of touch therapy may be performed. A child who is hypersensitive to sensations of touch may need to be stimulated with gentle brushing of the skin, for instance. Tight bandages and deep pressure massage can help children who are under-sensitive to touch sensations.

This type of therapy can gradually help children with SID learn to integrate sensory input and interact more normally with the world. While full recovery is not considered likely, most children who undergo sensory integration therapy show marked improvement in SID symptoms.

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