What is your body telling you?: Sensory Integration Part 1
Lets begin with a straight forward definition of sensory integration. Sensory integration is how your body integrates and processes the different sensory information, or input, in a day to day setting across different environments. It is believed that some people’s sensory organs differently process this constant stream of information, and it affects daily functioning. This is commonly known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
Let’s start with the basics:
‘Everyone knows the five common senses of sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell. Children begin using these senses at birth to learn about and respond to their environment (crying when cold, or when noises are too loud). How then, can we know where our hands are when our eyes are closed, or if something inside is painful, or if the bathwater is too hot? In fact, there are at least nine senses, and researchers believe there could be as many as twenty one. Occupational therapists work with the five common senses and additional senses including:’
Noriception: How your body feels pain.
Thermoception: How one senses heat and cold.
Proprioception: Basically, your place in space. Where your body is in relation to its parts.
All of a person’s senses allow them to interact with the world surrounding them. Our bodies are complex and multifaceted, like a clock with all of its parts working beautifully in synchronicity to allow you to feel a cool breeze, locate a jacket visibly, know where your arms and hands are in relation to the jacket sleeves, and place that jacket on.
Some sensory systems are believed to be over sensitive, under sensitive, avoidant, seeking, impulsive, or highly active, low energy. When your body is over sensitive to the many senses one’s body is receiving, it can become overwhelming. That cool breeze can feel like a thousand needles are pricking at your skin. The bright florescent lights are causing you to wince and have a headache. On the opposite side of this sensory spectrum, under sensitive sensory input can result in a person seeking out more of that sense to maintain a feeling of balance. Spicy foods may be preferred due to low taste input. Wearing improper clothing for the environment can lead to a winter coat in 98 degree weather.
These socially inappropriate reactions to the environment, if not understood, can lead to the assumption that the individual is being ‘stubborn’, or ‘bad’ or even to the misconception that they are ‘non-compliant’.
When approaching a person who has physical complications with integrating these symptoms into their everyday life, it’s important to observe, ask questions, and seek assistance to provide solutions.
Stay tuned for practical applications in part two of this article.