What’s Sensory integration?

sensation responseWe are all sensory beings who rely on our senses to be able to interact with the world.  Sensory Integration (AKA Sensory Processing) is a concept that has taken me years to understand, and still I am learning.  It is, at it’s most basic level, the efficient communication of circuits between your 8+ senses and your brain.

Information from your senses including sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, vestibular (balance), proprioception (where is my joint in space?), internal body sensations, and your energetic field around you is sent to your brain.  Your brain then interprets this information and sends out messages to the body for appropriate responses to each situation.

It is getting close to dinner time.  My stomach is empty – sends the message to brain “I need food”.  Brain receives this and says “I know that message”, gives it a name – hunger – and sends message to alert me that I feel hungry – Tummy has pain and grumbles (physical and auditory sensation).  Brain sends message to all sensory motor reflex circuits connected to muscles in body:  time to stand and move my feet and legs to the kitchen.  I visually search my supplies sending info to brain for recognition of what I want.  When I see what I want, message is sent from brain to my hands to grab it and create a luscious meal.   The smell of it cooking goes straight to the memory bank of how it tastes, and brain sends messages to make my tongue water in anticipation.

These well-organized messages (plus thousands of other messages at the same time) are sent on the circuits between the body and the brain and is Sensory Processing (integration) at it’s best.

Most of our senses start developing before we are born, registering information and giving feedback to our brain to help it to develop and learn.  After we are born, all of our development, learning and communication is based on messages sent from the senses to the brain, and the brain responds by setting muscles and other systems into motion to respond to the sensation.

So, what would happen if one part of the above sequence either over responded or under responded?  What if my brain did not understand the message from the stomach – that it is empty? or after the meal – that it is full?  What if, when I tried to stand my reflexes did not work – I might fall over.  What if my eyes could not pick out what I was looking for in the mess of food in  the refrigerator?  I would get angry and frustrated.

Any or all of these things could happen when a person is under temporary stress.  But if the messages from sensations chronically misfire sending too much or too little information, then the message that the brain gets is not accurate to the situation.  Often it’s response is to send out FIGHT, FLEE or FREEZE from a sensation (i.e. intense cries screaming or running at self care times). Then you have dis-order and life gets stressful.  It is challenging not only for the person experiencing it, but also for those around them because the intensity of the response does not match, what for others is, a usual or “normal‘ sensation.

In other words, when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses, usually because they are over or under responding to one or more sensations, it may be due to a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  

If you are experiencing behavior from your child, who is often kind and sweet, but then has moments of “bad” or unexplained behavior that disrupts your everyday life, and are searching for answers, you may be on the right page.  Keep reading on my blogs, check out the SPD Foundation website for a symptoms checklist, and call me so that I can help you to figure out if there is a connection for your child.