Sensory integration. What on earth is it?
It could be just one thing, or it could be many. It can be experienced as an under- or over-sensitivity to sensory experiences, like touch, hearing, smell, and sight. And it probably affects most of us in some way, at some time.
Perhaps you cannot bear the labels on clothes touching the back of your neck, the erratic rhythm of escalators, or the noise created by a large group of people. All these things may create some sort of sensory ‘overload’ leaving you on edge, exhausted, or even anxious. These are natural reactions to uncomfortable external spaces and sensations, made worse when we are stressed.
When do sensory integration issues become a ‘dysfunction’?
At primary school I had been ridiculed (by teachers!) for being unable to catch and throw a ball, to balance, or to play confidently on playground equipment. I couldn’t even draw a straight line, even using a ruler. Growing into my teens the way I walked brought on comments, and, among other things, I could not cope with loud noises – especially raised and aggressive voices, and I overreacted to bright light. I had difficulty following movements shown to me, riding a bike, and as a primary teacher I would feel ‘seasick’ if I had to walk through a group of children sitting on the carpet – I detected their smallest movements as a surging mass.
To help me cope in these ‘negative’ situations I avoided contact and proximity to people or left the ‘scene of the noise’ as quickly as possible. At other times I talked excessively to block out other sounds, and because all noises are equal to me, I unwittingly interrupted others if I found it necessary to cut through the external, threatening din.
When I was assessed and diagnosed in January 2001, I was found to be affected in the main eight sensory areas: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, movement, spatial awareness, balance. When my condition was described and explained to me, that the nightmare that was my life had a name and a reason, I was elated.
Over the next few years, I had regular physical therapy sessions and I learned to throw and catch beanbags, use a small trampoline, and to crawl. All this helped to improve my hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and mobility and increased my physical confidence. This would not have been possible without an initial diagnosis; and without this I would not have developed an awareness.
As long as it accurately describes what’s in the tin – labels can be positively life affirming.