Contrary to conventional knowledge that we have five senses, we actually have seven. The two additional senses are the vestibular sense which detects movement and changes in the position of the head, and the proprioceptive sense telling us about weight, body position, pressure, and movement.
In simplest terms, Sensory Integration (SI) is the brain perceiving sensory information such as sight, sound, movement etc., processing what is happening and reporting back to us. When the brain fails to process this sensory information efficiently and correctly, it is called Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Hypersensitive individuals generally overreact to sensory input, and hyposensitive individuals tend to underreact to input; usually needing more stimulation for a sensation to register in their brain.
Though all people have sensory issues to some degree, when they begin to affect day to day living, sensory therapies may be needed to help daily functioning.
Sensory Integration Therapy and the Sensory Learning Program are two therapeutic options that help children and adults with sensory issues. They are very different in nature, and each one is just a piece of the puzzle in helping individuals with sensory issues.
Sensory Learning Therapy
Schmakel Vision Therapy and Sensory Learning Center of Toledo has been offering Sensory Learning Therapy since 2008. Dr. Jeff Schmakel is the director of this non-invasive, non-cognitive therapy that was developed 15 years ago by Mary Bolles. “Toledo has one of the only 31 Sensory Learning Centers around the country”, said Marjorie Hunter, administrator of the program. “We are using light, sound, and motion simultaneously”, said Ms. Hunter. The 30 day drug free, intervention involves twelve consecutive days of therapy involving music at varying frequencies, different colored lights, and lying on a bed that gently moves back and forth, or side to side. Light therapy continues at home for 18 days. This non-cognitive therapy is working with the brain stem and creating new neuro pathways, according to Ms. Hunter. Once the new pathways are formed, they are permanent and therapy is rarely repeated.
Alleviating symptomsHunter stresses this therapy is not a cure, but rather a treatment to alleviate or lessen symptoms. She considers this very foundational, and not a replacement for, but rather as a way to enhance, other therapies such as speech, occupational, sensory, etc.
Sensory Integration therapy
Sensory Integration Therapy is cognitive, on the other hand, and the individual is actively involved in the therapy session. Patty Rodgers, an occupational therapy assistant with Help Me Grow says the goal is to involve as many of the senses as possible during a sensory therapy session. There might be pulling, touching, swinging, tasting, etc. Sometimes individuals may wear a weighted vest if they are seeking more input, and therapeutic listening may be used during a session as well. “If you have a sensory issue, it doesn’t really disappear”, said Ms. Rodgers. Rather, she explains, “we learn how to cope with it and live with it. Therapy is one way to help minimize the issues.”
Therapy in schools
Brigid Wernert, an occupational therapist who works with students at the Autism Academy of Learning in Toledo said sensory breaks are built into the daily schedule. A sensory room is complete with therapy balls, swings, bean bags, lights, and much more. The therapy prepares their mind and bodies to be more receptive to the next task at hand during the school day. A mind and body preoccupied with sensory issues can rarely concentrate on anything else. “Research has shown that it [the effects of the therapy] can last in your system for up to two hours after initial application”, said Ms. Wernert. However it can vary by individual.
Every person is unique, and will respond to various therapies differently. There are many options available that have been shown to be successful, and plenty of people out there willing to help you or your child overcome these obstacles.