What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration theory was first developed in the 1960's by Dr Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and educational psychologist. Dr Ayres' pioneering work theorised that sensory integration is crucial to the development of motor and cognitive skills, and ultimately academic performance and behaviour.

A common difficulty with processing sensory information can include receiving too much sensory information - this can feel overwhelming and sometimes distressing.

Other sensory difficulties can include when the brain is not receiving enough sensory information, or this information not being interpreted correctly. This can lead to children either seeking extra information by being very active or being very passive.

Our sensory systems

Our eight sensory systems are:

  • Vision - using our eyes
  • Auditory - using our ears
  • Tactile - using touch through the skin
  • Olfactory - using smell
  • Gustatory - using taste
  • Vestibular - using our sense of balance and movement
  • Proprioception - knowing where our body is in space
  • Interoception - our internal senses, such as feeling hungry


Children with poor sensory integration can find life more challenging than other children and can have a range of difficulties, for example:

  • Poor attention
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Difficulty doing two handed tasks, such as using cutlery
  • Lying with head on desk
  • Fidgeting in seat
  • Clowning around
  • Excessive movements
  • Handwriting difficulties
  • Poor pencil grip
  • Avoidance of certain tasks or environments
  • Struggling in busy environments
  • Covering ears
  • Making a lot of noise
  • Fussy eater
  • Low muscle tone
  • Dislike of hair and nail cutting
  • Poor attainment at school
  • Poor social skills
  • Constantly "on the go"
  • Dislike of certain materials
  • Risk taking

As there are multiple patterns of sensory integration difficulties, the list of observable behaviours is long.

A full assessment of your child's sensory processing can help identify which sensory pattern they have and how difficulties with activities relate to your child's sensory integration difficulties.

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