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Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy was proposed by Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist, in 1960s. Jean Ayres defined sensory integration as the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively with the environment.

Jean Ayres had difficulties with sensory inputs in daily life when she was growing up, and these difficulties adversely affected her learning different than her peers. Due to these difficulties in her childhood, Ayres started to work in this field to understand individuals like her who lack daily life skills.

We use our senses to become aware of the world we live in every day, to react to events happening around us, to learn, to interact with everything and everyone around us. The senses that enable us to do all of this are classified as sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, balance and movement senses (Vestibular sense) and muscle and joint sense (proprioception). Our sense of balance and movement allows us to know where we are in space, and where our head is relative to gravity, while our sense of muscle and joints allows us to know how much force we apply and where our body limbs are relative to our body. All these senses provide us with information about our own body and the environment. This process in which our brain regulates and interprets sensory information is called Sensory Integration.

In most people, sensory integration develops through typical experiences in childhood. Through the sensory experiences in childhood, the ability to receive, interpret and use information and develop appropriate answers develops. For example, children gain information about the position of their bodies in space through activities such as running, swinging, rolling and sliding off the slide. This information enables them to explore the world more easily and reliably. For example, this ensures them to pass safely across a street where cars pass by. However, the ability of some children to regulate sensory information may not develop properly. And as a result, difficulties in daily living activities such as playing, dressing, eating and staying calm may be encountered. This situation indicates that the child has problems with sensory integration. This problem is often described as sensory integration disorder or sensory processing disorder.

Common Sensory Problems

  • Attention deficit
  • Learning disability
  • Delay in motor skills
  • Difficulties in self-control
  • Behavioral problems (negative or excessive stubbornness, etc.)
  • Overreactivity
  • Hypersensitivity to sounds
  • Inability to achieve hand-eye coordination
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty in postural control
  • Speech problems (speech delay, stuttering, etc.)
  • Difficulty in doing general daily life activities (dressing, eating, doing homework, etc.)

One or more of the above problems may be observed in children with sensory processing disorder (sensory integration disorder). Sensory integration disorders are observed in children with typical functionality, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, attention deficit and hyperactivity, learning difficulties and other neurological conditions. Sensory integration disorders are observed differently in each child according to their characteristics and intensity. Occupational therapists aim to provide children with various sensory experiences by evaluating the child and environment in a proper harmony with sensory integration therapy. The therapy is individualized by occupational therapists to meet the special needs and interests of the child during the her/his development.