What is Sensory Integration (SI)?

October 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm Leave a comment

What is SI or Sensory Integration?

The first step to learning how to help your child is to get a better understanding of what’s really going on.  The way each of us views the world we live in is totally subjective.   Every opinion, reaction, or idea we have is based on our experiences in life.  When we are created, we have several senses that help us to learn about our world.  The five most known senses are:  touch, taste, hearing, smelling, and seeing.  However, there are additional senses that most of us forget about or aren’t even aware that we have.

Proprioception   Is a sense that uses receptors on nerve endings found in muscles, tendons, joints, and the inner ear that relay information about our body position and movement in space. These proprioceptors detect subtle changes in movement, position, tension, and force  within the body and allow muscles to contract quickly and help protect us from injury.  Here’s an example of proprioception in use:  We trip and fall and sub-consciously, we put out our hands to brace ourselves.  The fall happened so quickly that you didn’t even think about your response, it happened naturally-to protect you.

Vestibular   The vestibular system is believed to be the single most important sense we have as it affects each and every area of our ability to function in everyday life.  It’s center is in the inner ear and it involved the visual, auditory, and movement receptors.  If you’ve ever had an ear infection that affected your balance, than you know the importance of the vestibular system.  If there is a problem with this system, results may be extremely disruptive to our bodies-headaches, nausea.  The vestibular system controls our balance and movement.  In fact, we can think of this as:  Am I moving?  Is something around me moving?  Is something I’m on moving?  Here’s an example.  You are at a red light.  You look down for a minute to adjust the radio and then look back up.  The bus next to you is moving, or wait, did your foot slip off of the brake?  You have to re-orient yourself to your surroundings.  Which one was it-your car moving or the bus?  Another example:  You are sitting on a boat in rough water.  Close your eyes and you feel your body moving about with the boat.  How did you know you were moving?  It was your vistibular system telling you!

Tactile  I mentioned touch above, but want to give you a little more information.  The tactile sytem involves recognizing temperature, pressure, hard/soft.  If you walk into a dark room, you need to find the light switch.  You know to feel for a rectangle that’s smooth and hard.  You know that it has a smaller switch in the middle of the switchplate.  Your hand finds it by feeling for it along the wall.  Example:  You walk in the park, you feel a light tap on your shoulder.  You immediately turn around to determine the source.  OR You walk in the park, someone accidentally crashes into you while texting and running.  You feel the impact and judge it accordingly.

When senses develop correctly, our bodies are able to take information in, process them through our nervous systems, and react to them.  We touch a hot stove accidentally,  we seemlessly and quickly remove our finger.  We didn’t think about how we were going to do it, it just happened.  Our sensory system is much like a computer.  It takes in information, processes it, and gives our bodies a job to do or an output.

What happens when things go wrong?  Tune in!!

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Entry filed under: Occupational Therapy, Sensory Integration. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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