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Sensory Integration Disorders 


Sensory integration disorder occurs when the nervous system does not properly organise sensory input from movement, pressure, touch, sight, hearing, smell or taste. For example, a child refuses to dress in the morning because of his or her hypersensitivity to touch, or plugs his or her ears as soon as he or she enters school and cannot concentrate because of noise. In order to identify a sensory integration disorder, there must be at least a few disturbing and recurring symptoms. Thus, a disorder will not be diagnosed if a child shows only one disturbing symptom, e.g. does not like to receive kisses or is disturbed by tags.


Types of disorders 


  1. Sensory integration disorders can be divided into 3 types:
  2. Sensory modulation disorders - in this group we distinguish between children who are hypersensitive to stimuli, sub-sensitive (having reduced sensitivity) or seeking certain sensory experiences.
  3. Sensory differentiation disorder - when the child does not perceive differences between stimuli of the same modality, e.g. cannot distinguish between smells or tastes, cannot tell which force to use to perform a task, or cannot find an object on a shelf among other things etc.
  4. Sensory motor disorders - occur when the child has an incorrect posture, decreased postural tension, poor balance, difficulties with motor coordination or movement planning.

Mixing disorders 


Sometimes you will hear parents say that their child is hypersensitive to stimuli. And it does happen that the sensory integration disorder is homogenous in the child, i.e. the child will be for example tactile, auditory, visual, olfactory and vestibular hypersensitive. However, this is quite rare. More often than not, sensory integration disorders are heterogeneous in children. There are often patients who are hypersensitive to tactile or auditory stimuli, while at the same time they intensively seek sensations from movement and hard muscle work. They often also have a postural component, i.e. poor balance, reduced postural tension, etc.


There are also children who may be hypersensitive and seek sensations within one sensory system, e.g. they intensively seek tactile sensations in the hands and feet, but have hypersensitive head and face. Then they will be happy to play with various plastic masses or to walk barefoot on different surfaces, but will protest when washing their face, teeth or hair.


As you can see, sensory integration disorders can occur in various combinations. The child can be simultaneously hypersensitive to one type of stimulus and can seek stimuli of a different modality. It is important to diagnose them correctly and start therapy to help the child in everyday functioning.


Anna Chacińska

special educator, specialist in sensory integration