Kids Connections Developmental Therapy 
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Dept. of Developmental Services
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© [2019] [Kids Connections Developmental Therapy Center]
Student Project Website by: Lani Nguyen, OTS, Shannon Kaiser, OTS, and YJ Her, OTS

Sensory Integration

The Vestibular System

The vestibular system is one of the most crucial sensory systems in our body. It is located within each of our ears and connects to many areas of the brain. This sensory system allows us to respond to the pull of gravity and detect movement when our head position changes.

One important vestibular pathway connects the vestibular system to our eyes. This helps our eyes maintain a stable visual field while we move, run and jump while also helping our eyes track when reading or catching a ball. 

The vestibular system also sends signals to our body to maintain an upright position when we are sitting and while moving. Children with an under-responsive vestibular system may have a hard time sitting up in the classroom or adjusting their body to balance while swinging or riding bicycle. Additionally, the vestibular system helps us coordinate both sides of our body for skills such as buttoning, tying shoes, pumping a playground swing or performing jumping jacks.

The vestibular system also plays an important role in our overall self-regulation skills. Children who are sensitive to vestibular input may appear nervous, anxious and have a high arousal level. Children who do not feel vestibular input may seek this input via spinning, running, or rocking and can appear both overly tired, sleepy or lethargic (needing movement to alert their system) or hyper (seeking move movements to calm their system. 

The Tactile System

The tactile system refers to our sense of touch and allows us to interpret information from the outside environment into our bodies. Children with difficulties in this area may be over-emotional or under responsive to touch.

Over-responsive (tactile defensive)

Children who have an over-emotional response to tactile input might avoid messy textures such as cream, paint, or certain types of foods. They might struggle with self-care tasks such as bathing, toothbrushing, and tolerating hair cuts. They also may be overly sensitive to certain clothing textures. Children with tactile defensiveness often have poor self-regulation and can appear hyper or have extreme emotional lability. 

Under-responsive

Other children might be under-responsive to tactile input and struggle to complete self-care tasks such as dressing as they might not be able to feel the position of their clothes on their skin. Another example might be the ability to thoroughly rinse off shampoo from the back of their head. Children who are under-responsive to touch may often appear clumsy, have poor personal space awareness and have a difficult time using utensils or writing tools. 

Proprioception 

The proprioception system is the awareness of our body position (e.g., when walking down the stairs, knowing how far to step down). This system allows our body to make automatic adjustments in our position and grade our force.  Children with difficulties in this system may might exert too much pressure when holding and using a pencil/crayon. They might have difficulties pouring juice without spilling or appear to be rough in their play with peers. 

Difficulties feeling this system impact your child's body awareness needed to perform many tasks with fluidity and coordination. Because this sense relies on our body to provide us feedback, your child might have difficulty imitating body positions, poor balance and overall difficulty learning new motor skills. 

The proprioception system also has strong ties to our regulation. Proprioceptive input can often be calming for children and they may seek this input to calm other systems that are overly sensitive and aid in self-regulation. In these instances your child may overly seek input such as running, jumping, crashing his/her body and chewing items.

Written by: Dr. Kelly Auld-Wright, OTD OTR/L