Sensory integration is starting to become one of those “buzz words” like neuroplasticity, we hear it not only in our professional capacity but also in yoga classes and on Radio 4 documentaries. It is an area and a therapy that is somewhat debated in the paediatric occupational therapy and medical worlds. Like Auditory Verbal therapy, it is starting to become more widely understood, however, and professionals and parents are seeing the effects of the therapy.

16% of school age children are currently being diagnosed with sensory integration disorder as a stand alone diagnosis. Some research is shows that over 70% of children who are deaf are showing sensory integration difficulties (Rhoades, 2001; Bharadwaj, 2012) but in reality there is not enough research for children who wear hearing aids and cochlear implants.

So what is sensory integration?

The official definition is “Sensory Integration (SI) is the ability to assimilate sensory information from the body and environment for use” (Ayres 1979, 2005). We can take the analogy of a computer. Auditory Verbal therapists love thinking about the brain as a computer! As Dr Carol Flexer tells us “the brain is the hardrive and the ears are just the keyboard”. If we expand the idea of the keyboard to all the senses then we can consider sight, taste, touch, movement, gravity, internal body awareness AND hearing as our computer’s input. Processing takes place at the level of the midbrain and brainstem and the computer’s output includes: Attention, learning, movement, social interaction, self-regulation, self-esteem, expression of feelings and understanding of word boundaries. These are all outcomes which we aspire to by graduation from the Auditory Verbal therapy programme.

Dysfunction occurs when a child (or adult) with an intact nervous system has difficulty processing some of the input to their computer. This dysfunction or misinterpretation of sensory information interferes with daily activities or development and can often look like bad behaviour or willingness to be disruptive or seek out activities that are not in line with what is expected e.g. constantly rocking on your chair in the classroom or refusing to wear shoes to school.

Each of our senses requires a “Just Right Balance” in order for our computer to function optimally.
Getting that balance is essential in accessing therapy, education and just life!

PROPRIOCEPTION is one of the greatest tools for getting that balance, for both us as adults, therapists, parents and teachers and also the children we love, work with and educate. Proprioception is considered the “sixth sense” it gives our joints and muscles information about where we are in space, how fast we are moving and how much force we are exerting e.g. when we are drawing, using enough force to make a mark but not drawing through the paper.

Using proprioception in therapy can be advantageous for children whose bodies require a just right balance, as this sense helps us to become calm and alert. For example, carrying a heavy backpack gives the body information whilst also requiring it to organise itself effectively. This can help a child who wants to run or flit from place to place.

If you have a question on the other senses and sensory integration relating to Auditory Verbal therapy, please submit your question by clicking on the pink button. 

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I am at the Sensory Integration starting block, in my second leg of a 4 part journey towards becoming a sensory integration practitioner. It is fundamental as professionals that we work together so that we can provide children with holistic intervention that best meets the needs of their entire system.

If you would like to learn more about how sensory integration relates to Auditory Verbal therapy, please contact me on [email protected]


With special thanks to our Sensory Integration colleagues:

Amy Stephens
Highly Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, Advanced Sensory
Integration Practitioner
University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service

Nerys Hughes
Clinical Director, Advanced Practitioner Paediatric Ocupational Therapist
Whole Child Therapy

Kerry-Anne Brown
Senior Occupational Therapist
Evalina Hospital