Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration refers to the way our brains process and organize sensory information from the environment and our bodies. This complex neurological process allows us to make sense of the world and respond appropriately. Sensory information includes what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, as well as our sense of balance, body position, and movement.

For most people, sensory integration occurs naturally and efficiently. However, some individuals, particularly children with autism and other developmental disorders, may experience sensory integration difficulties. These challenges can significantly impact their daily functioning, learning, and social interactions.

The Role of Sensory Integration in Child Development

Sensory integration plays a crucial role in a child’s development. It affects their ability to perform everyday tasks, engage in play, and interact with others. Here are some key areas influenced by sensory integration:

  1. Motor Skills: Proper sensory integration is essential for developing both fine and gross motor skills. This includes activities like writing, cutting with scissors, running, and jumping.
  2. Learning and Academic Performance: Sensory processing impacts a child’s ability to focus, follow instructions, and participate in classroom activities. Difficulties in this area can lead to challenges in reading, writing, and mathematics.
  3. Social Interaction: Effective sensory processing helps children understand social cues, regulate their emotions, and engage in meaningful interactions with peers and adults.
  4. Behavior and Self-Regulation: Sensory integration affects a child’s ability to regulate their behavior and emotions. Children with sensory processing difficulties may exhibit behaviors such as meltdowns, avoidance, or hyperactivity in response to sensory stimuli.

Sensory Integration Dysfunction

Sensory Integration Dysfunction, also known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), occurs when the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information from the senses. Children with SPD may be over-responsive (hypersensitive) or under-responsive (hyposensitive) to sensory input.

Common Signs of Sensory Integration Dysfunction

  • Over-Responsiveness: Children may be extremely sensitive to sounds, lights, textures, or movements. They might avoid certain activities, clothing, or foods due to discomfort or fear.
  • Under-Responsiveness: Children may seek out intense sensory experiences, such as spinning, jumping, or crashing into objects. They might appear inattentive or unresponsive to sensory input.
  • Sensory Seeking: Some children may exhibit a combination of both, fluctuating between seeking and avoiding sensory input.

Sensory Integration and Autism

Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience sensory integration challenges. These difficulties can affect their ability to communicate, learn, and interact socially. Sensory integration therapy is often an integral part of ABA therapy for children with autism.

Sensory Integration Therapy in ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely recognized and effective approach for helping children with autism and other developmental disorders. Sensory integration therapy can be incorporated into ABA to address sensory processing issues and support overall development.

Key Components of Sensory Integration Therapy

  1. Individualized Assessment: A thorough assessment of the child’s sensory needs and preferences is conducted to create a tailored intervention plan.
  2. Therapeutic Activities: Engaging activities are designed to challenge and stimulate the child’s sensory system in a fun and motivating way. These activities might include swinging, jumping, tactile play, and obstacle courses.
  3. Gradual Exposure: Children are gradually exposed to different sensory stimuli to help them build tolerance and improve their sensory processing abilities.
  4. Collaboration with Caregivers: Parents and caregivers are essential partners in the therapy process. They are trained to implement sensory integration strategies at home and in everyday routines.

Benefits of Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy can lead to significant improvements in a child’s daily functioning and quality of life. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Enhanced Motor Skills: Improved coordination, balance, and fine motor skills.
  • Better Academic Performance: Increased focus, attention, and participation in learning activities.
  • Improved Social Skills: Enhanced ability to engage with peers and understand social cues.
  • Emotional Regulation: Greater ability to manage emotions and reduce sensory-related meltdowns or behaviors.

Incorporating Sensory Integration Strategies at Home

Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting their child’s sensory integration needs. Here are some practical strategies that can be incorporated into daily routines:

  1. Create a Sensory-Friendly Environment: Modify the home environment to reduce sensory overload. This might include using soft lighting, minimizing loud noises, and providing a quiet space for the child to retreat to when needed.
  2. Engage in Sensory Play: Incorporate sensory-rich activities into playtime, such as playing with textured materials, water play, or using sensory bins filled with rice, beans, or sand.
  3. Use a Sensory Diet: A sensory diet is a personalized plan of sensory activities that helps the child maintain an optimal level of arousal and focus throughout the day. This might include activities like swinging, deep pressure massages, or using fidget toys.
  4. Implement Calm-Down Techniques: Teach and practice calming techniques, such as deep breathing, weighted blankets, or using a sensory swing, to help the child manage sensory overload.


Understanding and addressing sensory integration is essential for supporting children with autism and other developmental disorders. Sensory integration therapy, integrated within ABA therapy, can lead to significant improvements in a child’s ability to function and thrive. By creating a sensory-friendly environment and incorporating practical strategies at home, parents and caregivers can play a vital role in their child’s sensory development and overall well-being.

At Chicago ABA Therapy, we are committed to providing comprehensive, individualized support for children with sensory integration challenges. Our experienced therapists use evidence-based practices to help children achieve their fullest potential. Contact us today to learn more about our sensory integration and ABA therapy services.

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