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Sensory integration is becoming more widely understood. We are sensory beings and are constantly processing the sensory world from the bright lights, noises around us, filtering out back ground sounds so that we can focus on the person who is speaking to us. In sensory integration the Occupational Therapist considers 8 senses, and will develop a sensory diet or intervention plan to suit the individuals sensory needs.
The 8 Senses
In sensory integration we are interested in all 8 senses. You can probably immediately think of 5 – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and the sense of touch.
The other 3 are proprioception, vestibular and interception, these are defined below.
Our muscles and joints have tiny sensory receptors that tell our brain where our body parts are. When you put a spoon to your mouth, you don’t need to look at the spoon to see where it is or feel for your mouth to know where to place the spoon; you know where your hand is in relation to your mouth. It is largely your proprioceptive receptors giving you this information.
In our inner ear we have small, fluid filled canals, the fluid in these canals moves every time we move our head. Receptors in these canals pick up the direction of movement and send this information on to our brain. So we know if we are moving forwards, backwards, side to side, tilting our head, turning round or moving up and down.
Once again, our brain uses this information to plan for movements and help us maintain our balance.
Interoception: this is a fairly new area for discussion in sensory integration; interoception is how our body tells our brain what is going on inside our body, when we are hungry or feel full, when our heart is beating fast or when we have that sensation of butterflies in the stomach.
Jean Ayres was particularly interested in the interaction between and development of the vestibular, proprioception, touch, vision, and hearing. She saw these as important in supporting our ability to use our body, concentrate, develop self-esteem and confidence as well as having self-control and academic skills.
We continue to see the link between poorly developed senses and these abilities both in research and in practice.
At Oak Therapy we use the natural environment and outdoor activities as our sensory therapy, Eco Sensory Therapy. We connect with the earth through caring for the field, we use activities such as caring for the animals to help self-regulate. Heavy tasks such as mucking out provide great proprioceptive feedback, walking outside can support self-regulation. The rhythm of the seasons provides us with reassurance that change is ok, and the sensory experience of the changing of the weather. In today’s society we are so keen to be inside and stationary however our bodies are designed to move we feel better when we move. The natural environment is where we belong, we are ourselves part of nature and being outdoors is proven to benefit our mental well being.
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