“SENSORY this, SENSORY that…”

Aug 1, 2023 | Children, Sensory

‘Sensory’ is a BIG buzz word when talking about children’s growth and development. It is frequently used in conversation about development, learning, emotional regulation, and behaviour. At Family Connections Sydney, Sensory Integration is deeply imbedded in our therapy approach. But what does this mean?

Sensory processing refers to the ability of the brain to receive and process information from our external environment and from our body, then integrate this information so we can effectively interact with our environment.  Well-functioning sensory systems allow children to develop a good sense of self (body perception, interoception), spatial awareness, confidence moving through the environment and interacting with objects as well as the ability to plan, organise and sequence more complex tasks and actions.

Sensory systems responsible for bringing the information from the outside are: –

  • Visual: seeing what is around us
  • Auditory: hearing what is around us
  • Olfactory: smelling what is around us
  • Tactile: feeling what is against our skin

The information from the inside of our body comes from: –

  • Vestibular system providing us with information about the direction and speed our body moves in space and helping us work against the gravity.
  • Proprioception: perceiving where and how our muscles and joints are moving
  • Interoception: perceiving signals from our body such as hunger, heart rate and the need for the toilet.

As these sensory systems work together through the process of sensory integration, a child can understand what is happening inside and outside of their body and so lay the foundations for body awareness, balance, posture, hand eye coordination, visual functions, attention, language, communication, learning and behaviour.

Sensory integration challenges can originate from several factors including genetics, pre-natal complications, premature birth, complications during birth and early health issues. Understanding the child’s developmental history from the time they are in utero is important to ensure that therapy addresses the underlying problem and not just the visible presentation or challenges.

There are many Occupational Therapists and other professions that use ‘sensory based activities’ or create sensory diets. These again are often misunderstood as the same as sensory integration therapy. Sensory diets seek to increase exposure to a particular sensory input that either regulates or stimulates a child for a purpose. This may be to support their attention or assist them to regulate after a long day at school. This type of therapy should always be specific to the child and based on a firm understanding of their sensory processing and preferences. Additionally, many therapists will use sensory based activities to develop specific skills such as fine motor skills, balance, or hand eye coordination.

The role of an Occupational Therapist trained in sensory integration is to assess, understand and then support a child to organise the sensory information they are receiving to create adaptive responses.

By providing opportunities to overcome different obstacles within well crafted ‘just right challenge’, children can re-wire their neural pathways, making way for improved coordination, play skills, learning and social engagement.  They can successfully adapt their responses and build confidence under the guidance of their therapist.


Author: Caitlin Venn – Occupational Therapist