Human beings have five main senses, sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Sensory integration describes the process in which the brain takes in information sent by these senses, organizes it, and sends the message on how to respond accordingly. Besides the five primary senses, the human body also has two other senses that are not discussed much but are equally important:
- Vestibular: a sense of balance and movement
- Proprioception: a sense of body awareness, posture, and position
These two senses make you aware of where your head and body are. When something is wrong, say you have a stiff neck, these senses help you to realize you cannot move your head as you normally would. Once your brain gets this message, you can then make informed decisions, such as seek remedy for the stiff neck or avoid driving until all your senses are in coordination.
Sensory integration is critical during early childhood. Although most children follow the expected developmental milestones for their age, some have trouble with sensory integration. Sensory Processing Deficiencies where the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information are especially common in children in the autism spectrum.
The prevalence of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has increased significantly in Singapore with one in 150 children diagnosed with it. In 2014, 4,400 preschoolers were diagnosed with developmental issues. This represents a 76% leap from the 2,500 children diagnosed in 2010. Experts believe that the increase does not necessarily mean more children are in the autism spectrum. The rise in the number of children with ASD is attributed to increased awareness and there are plans to create a more inclusive society in Singapore for those with disabilities.
Children with Autism experience behavioral challenges, which ultimately affects their ability to develop necessary life skills. Some of the children in the spectrum show signs of hypersensitivity or limited sensitivity to stimuli in their surroundings. For example, hypersensitive autistic children react to music that they perceive is loud, while others are affected by bright lights.
Do you sometimes wonder why an Autistic child chooses to engage in self-stimulating behaviors such as head banging and rocking back and forth? Well, this is mainly due to sensory processing deficits. The child is using these actions to seek out certain sensations that they feel they need, but the various senses are failing to provide due to the absence of sensory integration.
All the human sensory organs work together to help with the coordination of the different body parts. The vestibular sense helps to retain balance even when you change your body position. The proprioceptive sense makes you aware of the space surrounding your body. If there is any delay, such as you not seeing an obstacle in time, your brain will not relay the message to the proprioceptive and vestibular senses in time. The result will be you getting hurt or losing your balance.
For example, when you encounter an obstacle while walking, your eyes will send the message to your brain, which will, in turn, warn your proprioceptive sense about the possibility of you getting hurt if you don’t stop, or change direction. The vestibular sense helps you to retain body balance as you maneuver through this space.
Unfortunately, human beings have different levels of sensory integration. Difficulties associated with sensory integration can be identified as a child develops. Some children are slower in response and need time to coordinate all the senses, while others need help.
After birth, children slowly start to develop their senses. As they grow, the proprioceptive and vestibular senses become stronger. Unfortunately, children don’t develop at the same pace. Just as some children take longer to start talking or walking, some children take longer to show physical signs of information processing. Parents need to confirm if a child is experiencing sensory integration delay or if the child needs help with coordination.
When observing a child’s behavior, you should evaluate what the action tells you, instead of characterizing the behavior as either good or bad. As a child ages, the environment becomes even more complicated for him or her. Your child needs to be ready for some of the difficulties he or she will encounter while performing daily tasks.
A task that may appear simple for a child with advanced sensory integration may seem difficult or even impossible for a child experiencing difficulties with sensory integration. They may face difficulties with everyday tasks, affecting their attention, learning and behavior. If your child develops consistent signs of the following, we can help!
- Extreme sensitivity to sounds, smells, tastes, sights, touch, and movement
- Poor response to sensory stimulation. For example, if your child continuously crashes into objects or is oblivious to pain.
- Coordination challenges. This can easily be identified if a child has poor balance or has trouble learning new tasks that demand motor coordination.
- Unusually high or low activity level. For example, does your child get exhausted after completing a simple task?
- Poor organization of behavior. Does your child take time to consider what to do before embarking on a task? Is he impulsive or does he get easily distracted? It is also important to observe how your child behaves when frustrated by a task. Does he become aggressive, or does he withdraw when he encounters failure?
- Delays in developmental milestones can also be a sign of sensory failure. The delays may be encountered in developing motor skills, language, speech, or academic achievement.
- Poor self-evaluation. A child who is experiencing difficulties with sensory processing knows something is wrong, even if he or she cannot tell what’s wrong. This often affects a child’s demeanor. This child may show signs of being bored, demotivated, or lazy. If such a child knows he cannot perform a specific task, he will avoid it. Self-blame is typical for such a child, and if left to feel this way for too long, a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness may take root. It is important to seek help in addressing this.
Key Highlights of Our Sensory Integration Program
Sensory Integration Therapy is designed to help children with sensory processing problems, including those in the Autism spectrum. Since children with sensory deficiencies have different symptoms, the therapy is customized to focus on the challenges the patient faces.
The core objective of this therapy is to identify the sensory deficiencies and find the treatment that is likely to help the child be more tolerant of a sensory-rich environment. We also work at reinforcing positive behavior during the transition phase. Our treatment options include:
One-on-One Therapy Plan
This is an individualized therapy that is customized to suit your child’s needs. We will comprehensively assess your child to identify his or her sensory strengths and weaknesses. Our therapists will then come up with a plan on how to help your child.
Fun and Play-based Activities
Even if your child has sensory deficiencies, he or she is still a child who enjoys playing. We use activities such as climbing, spinning, and bouncing to keep the child entertained and interested in the therapy. We also use varied games to stimulate your child’s senses and encourage sensory integration.
This therapy targets your child’s holistic development. Our program involves various techniques, such as Floor Time, Play Therapy, and Interactive Metronome. These techniques are designed to improve the coordination of your child’s senses and to bring positive changes to your child’s developmental challenges.
Exciting Sensory-Rich Environment
The environment is critical when it comes to sensory stimulation. This is exactly why we have sensory-rich gyms equipped with trampolines, ladders, and swings to help your child to have a unique sensory experience designed to challenge your child’s senses. These are key tools in our sensory integration program.
Active Support for Parents
We understand how overwhelming it is for parents raising a child with sensory processing deficiencies. We don’t just offer therapy to children, but their parents as well. We teach parents various techniques on how to support their children, thus facilitating development at all times. We also have a guide to sensory development to help parents assess their children as they grow and advise parents on how to identify sensory deficiencies as early as possible.
Evaluation by a Team of Experts
Besides the team of committed therapists who work with the children, our advisory board will follow your child’s progress. The board is made up of speech and occupational therapy experts who are well versed with sensory processing deficiencies.
Although our focus is on individual therapy, we also have Jiggles & Wiggles Sensory Group Programs available for Preschoolers aged 2-4 years. The therapists use this program to evaluate the personal development of a child in a group setting. Each group has a maximum of five children. This program incorporates sensory integration in play and helps our specialists to monitor and evaluate the developmental phases of your child.