Sensory integration is a neurological process which involves receiving sensory information from our environment as well as from our body, integrating it within our central nervous system, and then producing a response appropriate to the situation. This process occurs without conscious thought most of the time, can change with age, and can be impacted by our level of stimulation. None of us are perfectly well-integrated sensory-wise, all the time. We experience multiple sensory situations throughout our day, and even though some of them may not be very comfortable, we respond in ways that are socially and functionally appropriate.
Also known as sensory integration dysfunction, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the diagnostic term used to indicate difficulty with this process. The individual perceives, integrates or responds to sensory input differently and with an intensity that interferes with his/her ability to produce a socially and/or functionally appropriate response to the situation or context.
There is a LOT of information out on the internet were you to “google” sensory integration or SPD, and can be overwhelming if it is your first foray into this topic. This page is designed to lead you to “vetted” sites that will offer information related to sensory processing, sensory diet, sensory-friendly clothing, and home activities.
Please consult the occupational therapist at your child’s school should you have specific questions about your child’s sensory processing profile or need more information about any of the areas listed on this page.
Books about SPD
In order to not get overwhelmed, I would recommend starting by reading either Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Lucy Jane Miller, or The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz. These will help you get a complete understanding of sensory processing. They are both easy and fast reads in parent-friendly language.
A sensory diet comprises of activities or strategies which, when done routinely, could help children regulate their arousal level and cope with the sensory demands of their environment. The frequency and intensity of activities in a sensory diet need to be carefully planned by caregivers to meet the individual and unique needs of the child. A “one size fits all” approach would not ensure the maximum benefit, and may run the risk of overstimulating a child with SPD. The activities in a sensory diet are usually planned to target one or more of the sensory systems, and work by providing a cumulative effect that can increase or decrease the arousal level of the child.
Here are some links to further understand the concept of sensory diets.
---“Raising a Sensory Smart Child” by Lindsey Biel, is a book I would recommend. Here is the link to it, which explains the term “sensory diet”.
---This website provides information on many aspects of SPD. The link below provides a list of questions to consider when creating an individualized sensory diet.
Sensory-friendly Clothing and Materials
Many a time, children with SPD find certain textures of clothing to be uncomfortable, especially if they have tactile hypersensitivity. They may find labels and seams to be irritating, resulting in refusals to wear certain garments, or wanting to wear the same clothes daily. Change of seasons may be particularly difficult since it requires a transition from long sleeves to short sleeves, from boots to sandals, or vice versa.
Below are some links to finding sensory-friendly clothing materials such as soft clothing, seamless socks, and spandex wear. Often children with tactile hypersensitivity and/or poor proprioceptive awareness like wearing tight inner clothing (such as bicycle shorts) to give them deep pressure input which is calming and organizing. Compression vests are also available....they are just velcro vests so that they can be put on snugly under clothing, and are made of the “wet suits” kind of material.
Use of weighted vests has also been proven to be effective for children with poor proprioceptive processing or tactile hypersensitivity, but you need to be careful in the amount of weight that is used, as well as how long the child has it on. A little over 5% of the child’s body weight is what is generally recommended. Half hour on and half hour off is what I generally recommend. Consultation with an occupational therapist is recommended before using weighted products. Weighted blankets, weighted lap pads, and weighted shoulder snakes can also help during sit-down times such as meals, TV, etc and at bedtime. Here is a good link to stores where you can purchase from.
Some additional links to stores for sensory materials such as weighted vests, weighted blankets, and weighted lap pads.
Oral Sensory Tools
Oral sensory seeking behavior is often seen in children with SPD or a sensory seeking profile. They may put inedible objects in their mouth, such as shirt collars and sleeves, fingers, small objects, pencil ends, etc. to satisfy a sensory need. The oral cavity is densely filled with sensory receptors and biting, sucking or chewing on objects can provide a child with the needed self-regulatory and organizing proprioceptive and tactile input.
The following link explains why a child may have the urge to bite, chew or suck on objects and provides some suggestions on appropriate ways to help an oral seeker.
These links will lead to sites from which you can order oral sensory materials to help satisfy your child’s oral sensory needs.
Children with sensory processing challenges may require additional sensory input to help them regulate and attend to the lesson being taught in class, engage in social interactions, remain in their seats for mealtimes or during tabletop work, and/or demonstrate acceptable emotional outputs. In addition to oral sensory tools, using their hands to feel, squeeze, stretch, and pinch a toy may help provide them with the needed self-regulating, tactile, and proprioceptive input.
The following links can be used to understand more about the use of fidget toys and where to find them.
This site provides information using PDF, visit this link to download the Adobe Acrobat Reader DC software.