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The Five Senses and Motor Integration

The five senses and motor Integration (sensory-motor integration) are at the core of how we learn and the motivation behind exploring our environment. We often tend to separate the way we view the body into segments. For example, one may look at a limb that has been injured or an organ that needs medication; but the body works as a complex system that depends on all of its parts to function optimally and in sync with the other areas of the body.

Our sensory system and motor system are no different. We cannot treat, for example, a broken leg without considering the sensory needs of the individual. The motor system is not just a motor system but also a sensory system, and our sensory system is not just a sensory system, but also a motor system. This works to our advantage. If I want a motor response, I can often get one through sensory stimulation and if I’d like to adjust the sensory system, I may be able to do so through a motor activity.

So, let’s take a look at how we can integrate these two systems to support one another.

Listen to move.

Getting someone to move who has hypotonia (low tone) or low motivation can be challenging. But we can add in auditory stimulation to help. Using music through a good sound system, personal listening device, or items with sound embedded in them can encourage movement, rhythm, and dance. Music can be used in the background or in the forefront to keep the beat. Something simple like a metronome can be used to keep pace.

Reach for what you see.

Visual stimulation can also be used to encourage a motor response. For example, if I’d like to encourage upper body motion, I can hang up a ball suspended, provide a bubble tube with vibration, or make interactive colors available to touch. But the key is that using color or even lighting can stimulate motion.

Rock to calm.

A rocker, rocking chair, rocker board or swing can relax and calm by stimulating the sense of motion. Gentle vestibular orientation has profound effects on the nervous system and can be used by someone with a heightened sensory response to calm down. So using motion can stimulate the sensory system to relax, or to get moving at times depending on how stimulating the motion is.

Breathe to Focus.

We can use aroma to encourage differing responses. For example, peppermint or citrus can be used to encourage an alert state or concentration; whereas lavender and sage can be used to calm. Scents (and even smells) can also encourage memory and thus discussion as certain smells remind us of events or stages in our lives.

Taste and Move.

Food is very motivating for most of us and can be used to entice movement (using a cheerio, for example, to get a child to climb up the steps, or rewarding yourself with a great smoothie after a workout). We don’t necessarily suggest using food as a reward system, although in moderation it can be highly motivating to encourage a good workout or a period of focus. The mouth provides an excellent sensory organizer and filter for calming and focus.

Move to Organize.

Using the motor system (exercise, play, motion, dance) can stimulate our sense of touch, sound, sight, and our awareness of where our body is in space. It can also raise endorphins creating a happy brain and more focused and directed thought processes. Movement can help to organize the way we think, and being in tune with our body can have a dramatic effect upon how we perceive sensory information. So, movement on a daily basis is crucial to a well-adjusted sensory integration system.

Be sure to look at both the sensory and motor system when you are creating strategies to encourage attention, focus, or memory. This can be extremely important for those with special needs or challenges.

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