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SNN Presents: Let's Talk About Sensory Integration

On 23 November, we were delighted to welcome Serene Cheong from the Child Development Centre (CDC) to our last event of 2021 to talk about Sensory Integration. As the Occupational Therapy Team Leader at CDC, Serene had a wealth of information to share with us parents, and the event was both informative and helpful to those of us seeking to help our children more effectively at home.

Sensory integration is defined as how our brains receive information from our senses, organise it and then use the information to produce responses that adapt our body and mind to that information. The brain needs a continuous variety of sensory input to develop and then to function. Serene explained how in addition to the 5 senses we are all familiar with (Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell and Touch) there are 3 more important senses:

  • Vestibular: motion, equilibrium and spatial orientation, gives us postural control and body awareness.

  • Proprioception: knowing the position of body parts and the force being employed in movement of those parts.

  • Interoception: Helps us know and feel what’s going on inside our bodies, regulating vital functions such as body temperature, hunger, digestion and heart rate.

Sensory Integration is these 8 senses working together. Serene explained more about the problems that can be experienced when there is a dysfunction in this area, such as under- or over-responsiveness, or sensory seeking. Parents and therapists need to put on their sensory detective lens to figure out the course of behaviours their child is exhibiting. Certain activities may calm a child down or improve their focus and attention, but they could also make a child more excitable.

Serene discussed the kinds of therapies an OT would use to address sensory issues and offered some important guidelines for parents when choosing activities at home: we should never force a child as they could develop unhappy associations with that activity in future; a predictable schedule means the child knows what to expect, and repetition helps consolidate their experiences; and there are plenty of everyday activities to try out. These are often part of daily life, like bath time bubbles, crunching veggies, helping with baking or gardening (getting fingers in the dough or soil). And Serene’s top tip is Play! Play! Play!

Joining Serene with some parent sharing was Robyn, who is Mum to Lily, who was born 3 months early and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Robyn gave us a fantastic insight into how understanding Sensory Integration has helped her understand her child more deeply and how she has been able to replicate OT therapies at home without the need to buy expensive specialist equipment. She recommended using food items if a child likes putting things in their mouths, for example oats, for texture. And pulling a child around the floor on a blanket can also be tremendous fun for parent and child, while stimulating multiple sensory responses.

We had some great interactive questions from parents during the event and learned that while any behaviour is communication, aggression is often a strongly voiced stop! Biting could be a quick way for a child to get what they want and it’s important for us to try to understand what caused that behaviour. In such a situation we can distract a child with something they like, or sometimes we need to turn off everything (lights, sounds) and lie still and quiet to calm down.

The big attendance for the event showed how important this topic is for parents of children with a wide range of special needs. Our thanks go out to Serene for sharing her expertise and leaving us with some practical tips to explore at home.

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