What is Sensory Motor Integration?
The definition of sensory motor integration is a complex matter but it is important that it is understood. Sensory motor integration refers to the link between the nerves (sensory system) and the muscles (motor skills) and to the process of receiving information through our senses, interpreting it, and organizing it. This process relies on the synergy of the sensory system and muscles, and this typically happens in three stages:
- A sense organ (e.g. eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin) picks up a stimulus (something that causes a reaction)
- Nerves communicate information to the brain, and the brain processes it
- The brain uses the processed information to decide how to respond to the stimulus. It sends these instructions to the right group of muscles to activate the appropriate response
The ability to process and integrate motor skills is essential to a child’s learning. As newborns, babies can use some of their senses but aren’t able to organize them well. For example, they struggle with balance and are unable to judge distances. During development, children get to grips with processing sensory information and can direct their attention to individual sensations, and ignore other incoming sensations. With this development, a child learns to organize these senses within the brain, due to increased experience of using the senses. With this, their clumsy motor skills become more accurate and smooth.
Types of Sensory Motor Integration Difficulties
For some children, this integration does not develop properly, and they face sensory challenges as a result. For these individuals, they either cannot organize sensory signals or cannot detect them. In turn, this can lead to motor clumsiness and other behavioral problems. These include but are not limited to:
A child with hypersensitivity is over sensitive and can be prone to sensory overload. Some signs of this may be:
- A fear of heights
- Adversity to touch
- A dislike of loud noises
The opposite of hypersensitivity is hyposensitivity, an ‘under’ sensitivity where the senses are ‘dulled’. Signs of this include:
- A perceived lack of fear or inability to feel pain
- An unawareness of surroundings
- Chewing objects
- Regularly fidgeting, running or rocking
Poor Motor Planning or posture
Also known as ‘praxis’, motor planning difficulties affect movement. Some common signs of praxis include:
- Clumsiness or trouble balancing
- Inability or difficulty planning next physical movements
- Trouble with fine motor coordination
You can read more about sensory processing disorders in our previous blog post.
Sensory Motor Integration Therapy
It has been reported that 1 in 20 children’s lives are affected by sensory issues. These must be treated as soon as possible during development; if left untreated, these problems will carry on into adulthood and become extremely debilitating to aspects of a sufferer’s life. As explained, children can be treated in such an enjoyable and motivating way to develop sensory and motor skills that allow them to reach their fullest potential.
For children who have sensory difficulties, sensory integration therapy can help sufferers to organize sensory input better. This is achieved by exposing children to a range of sensory stimuli, steadily increasing the complexity of challenges. This type of therapy helps children to form long-lasting behavioral patterns while facilitating healthy development, assisting the individuals in developing the skills that non-sufferers develop naturally. If left untreated, sensory problems can become very overwhelming and cause sufferers to become withdrawn and unable to concentrate or participate in everyday activities.
Sensory Motor Skills and Sensory Rooms
As well as regular sensory integration therapy, multisensory rooms can also be of benefit. These rooms are built for individuals with sensory processing issues and provide an environment that stimulates a whole range of senses. For children with sensory and motor integration problems, normal learning and play can be extremely difficult and unnerving. Because of this, a sensory room is built explicitly for special needs, to allow sufferers to feel comfortable and engaged. There is a range of sensory products that can go into a sensory room. These include mirrors, interactive toys, bubble walls and bubble tubes, and projectors. These products can range from stimulating and interactive, to soothing and calming, depending on the nature of the sensory and motor issues from which the child suffers.
Being in this environment can be extremely beneficial for children in improving both their sensory and motor integration. It enhances normal learning and play, improves balance, particular orientation and general movement, improves behavioral problems, and helps to develop gross and fine motor skills. It also allows children to concentrate, enhances alertness, and also improves both gross and fine motor skills. These rooms can be a sensory bedroom, sensory bathroom, a multisensory interactive learning environment, a sensory soft playroom, or even a sensory pool. It all depends on the needs of the child, and all of these allow individuals to improve their sensory and motor integration in an enjoyable and motivating way.