IT ALL MAKES SENSE
As a Sensory Integration trained therapist I frequently explain to people what this means... Sensory Integration is the process by which we perceive information through our senses, organise this information and then use it to participate in everyday activities. This is the process that teaches us everything we need to know about the world around us and our bodies.
Often Sensory Integration is referred to as a disorder where a child becomes overwhelmed or disorganised by sensory information from their body and the world around them. The proper term for this difficulty is a Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory integration is really just typical learning through the senses.
We have 7 senses – vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, movement and balance (vestibular sense) and body awareness from our muscles and joints (proprioception). Each of these senses receives information but it is the process of integration that allows us to make sense of our world. In order for this information to have meaning, the information from more than one sense needs to be combined, compared to previous experience and then acted on. We then receive feedback about how it worked.
For example, when a baby learns to sit, he combines information from his eyes (vision), inner ears (balance) and muscle and joints (proprioception). He combines this information, with past experiences of being carried, rolling and lying on his tummy. At first this is not enough and he will fall over but the more he practises and receives feedback from trying, the more his senses become integrated and the more successful he will be.
For sensory integration to take place optimally, he needs to be exposed to a variety of sensory input, in a variety of ways. To learn about a circle he needs to see a circle, feel a circle and move around a circle. He needs to see big circles, small circles, and look at circles upside down! He needs to feel hard circles, scratchy circles - lots of circles with the different senses.
It is however important to be aware of over-stimulation, as an overstimulated baby will not learn optimally. So go slowly and remember babies are being stimulated all day in many ways not just when you are actively stimulating them.