Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration (SI) is the neurological process that organizes sensation from one ’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment.  The spatial and temporal aspects of inputs from different sensory modalities are interpreted, associated, and unified.  Sensory integration is information processing... the brain must select, enhance, inhibit, compare and associate the sensory information in a flexible, constantly changing pattern; in other words, the brain must integrate it.   Ayres 1989.

SI is a theory of brain — behavior relationships:  What this means is that we are unable to observe central nervous system processing, sensory integration or motor planning.  We can observe and evaluate deficits in behavior; we can only hypothesize that these deficits are the result of poor SI.  We can observe whether or not our intervention programs effect a change in behavior, but, when these changes occur, we can only hypothesize that they are due to improved sensory integration or enhanced neural functioning

Learning is dependent on the ability of normal individuals to take in sensory information derived from the environment and from movement of their bodies,  process and integrate these sensory inputs within the central nervous system, and use this sensory information to plan and organize behavior.

When individuals have deficits in integrating sensory inputs, deficits in conceptual and motor learning will result.

Intervention provides opportunities for enhanced sensory experiences provided within the context of a meaningful activity and the planning and organizing of adaptive behavior will improve the ability of the central nervous system to process and integrate sensory inputs, thereby enhancing conceptual and motor learning (Fisher 1991)

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Sensory Integration Development

2 months — primary sensory systems: tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive, visual, auditory

12 months — perceptual motor foundation: lateralization, body awareness, bilateral integration, integration of primitive reflexes

After 18 months — neurons stop developing but synapses continue

3 yrs —perceptual motor skills: visual motor, language, eye-hand coordination, learn to interpret what is seen with vision alone

6 yrs — academic readiness: eye and ears are primary teachers, attention, complex motor skills, specialization of body and brain, self esteem, organized behavior

After 12 yrs — synapses not being used will disappear, progress can be made but is slower  

We know that play is the work for children, and that through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them.  When all they see, hear, and feel makes sense to them, a process of sensory integration has occurred.  Unfortunately with some children what they see, hear, and feel is not making sense to them.  SI kids have difficulty screening out what is and what is not important. 


Praxis — (Motor Planning) the ability of the brain to conceive of, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions.  It includes both knowing what to do and how to do it.  It is the ability to organize behaviors and develop or choose appropriate motor strategies to accomplish a task.

Dyspraxia — Poor praxis or motor planning.  Includes difficulty in performing in, and acting on, the environment.  A deficit in motor planning that results in motor clumsiness, difficulty in planning and carrying out skilled, nonhabitual motor acts in the correct sequence.

Proprioception — the ability to organize sensory information about body position and movement into conscious awareness of spatial orientation and organization of the body parts, and to use that awareness for purposes of motor planning and control.  Even at rest, gravity creates proprioceptive stimulation.

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Sensory Processing and CranioSacral Therapy

As those of us with children who are on the autistic spectrum or who have sensory processing issues know, there is a mirage of causes for SI disorders and therefore a mirage of cures.  It is because each child can have sensory processing disorders for a different reason that each child can react to each type of therapy in a different manner.  We have all heard about the brushing program, auditory training, sensory integration therapy, the removal of Gluten and Casein from the diet, and CranioSacral therapy.  As a Physical Therapist I have received training in and have implemented all of these approaches in my treatments, as well as, at home.  I have come to find that CranioSacral therapy is an integral part of the puzzle.  I have consistently found restrictions in the Intracranial Membrane System (ICM), primarily at the occipital cranial base. As these restrictions in a child's body are released, their "autistic" characteristics tend to diminish.  Do not misunderstand me.  I do not feel this is a "cure" for SI disorders, but it is another approach that can help decrease some symptoms. 

Please note that as a child grows or enters puberty, they may benefit from more frequent sessions.   There are times when the ICM system does not keep up with the cranial bone growth. CST can assist in keeping the ICM system mobile and flexible.

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Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT)

A formal assessment tool used to assess several different practice abilities, various aspects of the sensory processing status of the vestibular, proprioceptive, kinesthetic, tactile, and visual systems, and the major behavioral manifestations of deficits in integration of sensory inputs from these systems. This assessment can be given to children between the ages of 4 years — 8.11 years.

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