It's January, let's start at the very beginning. by Kath Smith - OT, ASI Wise

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration happens when our brain receives, interprets and helps us respond to sensory information. We need to be able to process sensory information from within our own bodies and from the world around us so that we can do the things we need to do in our everyday lives. 

 This is what the theory of sensory integration is about. Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Speech and Language Therapists with additional training in this theory also learn ways to assess and provide a range of interventions based on the theory. They work with teachers, parents and carers to understand each child or adults unique sensory difficulties. They work with families and teachers to develop individualised therapy plans and recommend ways to make everyday life easier.

When and how did it start?

Sensory Integration Theory was developed by Dr A. Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist who started exploring and publishing her growing knowledge and interest in the development of sensory and motor function in the 1950’s. Based in California, in the USA, she explored how receiving, interpreting and responding to sensory input from one’s body and the environment was essential to healthy development. She spent the rest of her life exploring how difficulties doing this might be interfering with someone being able to successfully engage in everyday life.


And then what happened?

She developed specialist ways to assess and understand sensory difficulties and then how to provide the right therapy for each person based on her thorough assessments. This included designing equipment and creating sensory clinics, play spaces where therapists could work with children to help get the right sensory input necessary for their development, learning and ultimately ability to participate fully in everyday life.

The equipment she developed to use in these clinic spaces resembled the challenges and opportunities naturally provided by the big wide outdoors where she grew up in rural farmlands. You can see different homemade swings in trees made from interesting farm stuff, and nifty bridges and ladders made from logs and stones crossing streams, hedges and walls in the equipment she developed.

She had recognised the importance of being able to move and experience body sensations while interacting with the world; the importance of movement is recognised in research across science and the arts, not only is movement critical to healthy development, it is essential to ongoing health and wellbeing. The individualised therapy originally developed by Ayres’ is now called Ayres’ Sensory Integration Therapy, with related sensory based interventions (SBI’s) including many of her ideas for supporting families including education and coaching. Her book to educate parents was published in 1979 ‘Sensory Integration and the Child’ and can read about these in Love Jean

Her imagination, creative and practical can do abilities are well documented, and many Southpaw products are based on her early designs, equipment that she created to use in her clinic. Flick through copies of her original writing; Sensory Integration for Learning Disorders, Sensory Integration and the Child and all version of Sensory Integration Theory and Practice and you will see her original designs and early clinic spaces.

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