Sensory Integration Products & Equipment
Sensory integration products and equipment come in many different shapes and sizes, addressing specific sensory inputs, sensory integration difficulties and supporting sensory play and sensory integration therapies.
As they have such a wide range of applications, when looking to learn more about sensory integration products and equipment it’s vital to ‘start at the beginning’: understanding what sensory integration is – and how sensory integration difficulties can be treated with therapy that uses such equipment.
What is sensory integration?
It’s impossible to answer the question ‘what is sensory integration?’ without also explaining the trademarked term: Ayres Sensory Integration®.
- Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, an occupational therapist, psychologist, andneuroscientistsystematically investigated the way the brain processes sensory information and how this information can be used for learning, emotions and behaviour. As a result, Ayres developed sensory integration theory, also known as Ayres Sensory Integration® - and you can often see this used in occupational therapy practice and applied in paediatrics and childhood education.
According to Ayres, the sensory systems we depend on for input include vision, auditory, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body awareness), and vestibular (balance and motion) and interoception (internal sense) - which is why you will often see sensory integration therapy equipment targeting these different sensory systems. Sensory integration is how we integrate these sensory systems to develop skills – particularly through childhood - and how we use them to react to an environment.
Essentially, sensory integration is how we use our senses to perceive and process information and then engage in typical everyday activities.
An example of sensory integration is:
- A baby smells food as they bring it to their mouth
- They taste the food
- The baby feels the texture of the food
- They determine what this food is and if they want more
In this example, the baby has used their senses to process information and make a decision or complete an activity.
This is a simple example and sensory integration is applied in a multitude of different everyday scenarios – at the end of the day, we’re all sensory beings! We all need sensory input to grow, learn and develop throughout childhood and as adults. Sensory integration, in this regard, is a process that every human does all the time.
Occupational therapists utilise sensory integration theories to help them distinguish when sensory integration and processing is or isn’t developing as expected.
Is there a difference between sensory integration disorder and dysfunction?
Sensory integration dysfunction is a formerly used term for sensory integration disorder, although many of today’s professionals will refer more specifically to sensory integration difficulties. In the UK, we only identify sensory integration difficulties, as there is no recognised diagnostic label at this point in time.
Sensory integration disorder or difficulties are when an individual is not able to process, and react appropriately to, the information being received by their senses. It is not a formal diagnosis and does not mean a child will have learning difficulties; but instead can be found in individuals with no diagnoses as well as those with identified diagnoses, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
What are the symptoms of sensory integration difficulties?
There are many, many ways sensory integration difficulties can present themselves – varying on the context, the individual and environment. Generally, though, sensory integration difficulties are problems effectively integrating sensations which can limit an individual’s ability to interact with others, perform co-ordinated actions, develop relationships, perform tasks, play, learn and participate in activities, for example with family or within a classroom environment.
What is sensory input?
As explained above, sensory input is the receiving of information through senses including visual, auditory, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body position), and vestibular (balance and movement) and interoception.
What is a sensory integration room?
The development of sensory integration rooms began in the Netherlands in the 1970’s. The initial idea was to deliver stimulation to the various senses of the user, both to relax and calm, while engaging or prompting people with special needs to take notice of their surroundings.
A sensory integration room is largely used by occupational therapists to help develop an individual's confidence and mobility skills. The rooms are often used to stimulate or calm a user, depending on whether the child needs up- or down-regulating, and the occupational therapist will choose specific pieces of equipment to support this.
What are sensory products?
Sensory products help people to engage their senses (i.e., smell, sight, taste, hearing, body position and balance and motion). When used within a sensory integration therapy setting, with a trained occupational therapist, these products can be used to help inform therapies for individuals where sensory development has not progressed as expected.
How do weighted sensory products work?
Weighted sensory products are often used by occupational therapists to deliver deep touch pressure therapy (DTP). The theory behind this therapy is that it delivers firm tactile sensory input, which can have a calming, soothing effect and produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Different weighted sensory products work in different ways – depending on how they are used, the setting within which they are used and the individual using them. Some weighted products deliver pressure to an individual and others encourage sensory input from resistance. That’s why occupational therapists will often use a range of weighted sensory products to aid their therapy plans, and that’s why Southpaw has developed and manufactured a broad range of weighted sensory products.
You can see one of our weighted sensory products, designed to work with different levels of pressure, in our video: The Southpaw Steamroller where Viv Chamberlain, advanced sensory integration practitioner, explains how the product can be used.
Are weighted blankets suitable for sensory integration difficulties?
Many studies have been conducted into the effectiveness of weighted blankets – for example, one American study found sleeping with a weighted blanket can encourage calmness and lessen anxiety.
Generally, weighted blankets provide proprioceptive input which can assist calming. They can assist those with sensory processing difficulties and diagnoses such as autism, ADD or ADHD, stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation.
Weighted blankets should only be used under the direction and advice of an occupational therapist or other suitably qualified health professional.