Four Foundational Principles of Sensory Integration.

Occupational Therapy
Four Foundational Principles of Sensory Integration.

We hear a lot about sensory processing! For example, Sensory Integration (SI) based Occupational Therapy and only certain professionals are to practice SI etc. Dr. Jean Ayres (1970) recommends all practising occupational therapists, speech therapists and physical therapists know sensory processing and its implications in therapy.

Understanding the sensory integration principles is foundational clinical reasoning and practice when working with young children. Bunny N Lane (2020) proposed four assumptions associated with sensory integration theory and practice.

  1. The central nervous system is neuroplastic - this is the ability of the neurons in the brain to form new synaptic connections in response to sensory input or learning experiences. In the sensory integration framework, it is believed that therapy causes new synaptic connections in the nervous system because of the brain’s neuroplasticity.
  1. The brain functions as an integrated whole - the brain is divided into the cortical and subcortical areas. They are also called the upstairs and downstairs brains which function together, in a synchronous manner. Ayers, focused on subcortical areas because she believed that it was these areas where sensory integration occurred. Current research shows that both cortical and subcortical areas are important in sensory integration (Bundy and Lane, 2020). While the lower subcortical region is responsible for survival the higher cortical areas take over logic and reasoning.
  1. Adaptive response is critical to the development of sensory integration (Bundy and Lane, 2020) – First, let us understand what is an adaptive response. It means that sensory information from the environment is received by the nervous system and helps us to process, integrate, plan, organise and respond to a situation or the environment. Based on the success or failure of the current response to the action, the brain plans further for subsequent actions.

For example, let us assume that a child wants to jump over a bench. Let us also assume that he fails in his first attempt. The chances are that he would retry to successfully jump over the bench and might try a few times. This is the process of successful integration and organisation of sensory information or adaptive response. It is a combination of sensory input and cognition that allows us to formulate an adaptive response.

  1. Children have an inner drive to develop sensory integration through participation in sensory-motor activities – When a child enjoys participating in sensory-motor activities, they would seem excited and enthusiastic. The inner drive and mastery over these activities would give them mastery over their body and environment as well. Children experiencing sensory processing differences may not demonstrate this drive to engage and participate in activities which is why therapies are so important, because therapies help children gain this confidence and build a relationship with the environment. Such therapies reinforce the child’s deep interest and autonomy, setting the child up for success and offering activities that challenge the child’s intellect to just the next level.

Using sensory integration principles in clinical practice boosts children's confidence, happiness, and helps them progress faster in reaching age-appropriate milestones.


Reference and Further Reading: Bundy, A. C., & Lane, S. J. (2020). Sensory Integration: Theory and Practice. F.A Davis.




Chitra Thadathil

Founding Director

Dimensions Centre for Child Development

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