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ADHD Natural Treatment: Sensory Integration

Hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are not the only problems experienced by children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In fact, these three core symptoms are just the tip of an iceberg of underlying problems that are related to problems in sensory integration.  Sensory integration is the way people sort out the information given by the five senses.  We usually view the five senses as separate sources of information, but they actually work together to provide us with a complete picture of our reality, of who we are, and of the events happening around us.  The brain uses information from the five senses in an organized manner so we can assign meaning to our sensory experiences and know how to react. 

For most people, sensory integration occurs with little effort or conscious thought. They can easily complete mundane tasks without planning each motion, or can shut out the surrounding world when concentrating on important activities. Children with ADHD, however, often have inefficient sensory integration.  They have difficulty understanding what is going on in their environment, and they have little guarantee that the sensory information they receive is reliable.  As a result, the child may avoid confusing sensations, or seek more of that sensation to understand it.  The symptoms of sensory integration dysfunctions are very similar to those of ADHD:

  • Over-sensitivity to stimuli like touch, sight, sound, or movement.  As a result, they have behavioral problems: they avoid some textures, are easily distractible, or behave aggressively when confronted with unknown sensory input.
  • Under-reactivity to sensory stimuli.  Instead of avoiding stimuli, they seek out intense sensory experiences like crashing into objects or body-whirling.  Children with this problem often appear hyperactive.
  • Unusually high or low activity level.  They are either easily fatigued or constantly on the go.
  • Coordination problems.  They may have poor motor coordination and balance, and difficulty learning new tasks that require motor coordination.
  • Problems in academics or daily tasks.  Despite having normal or above average intelligence, they may have problems with academic subjects or difficulty accomplishing daily tasks like tying shoelaces.
  • Poor behavioral organization.  May be distractible or impulsive, or lack planning when doing tasks, or be impulsive.

Sensory integration therapy rehabilitates any sensory integration problems by placing the child in an environment that will stimulate and challenge all dysfunctional senses.  The program aims to improve the brain’s ability to process sensory information, to avoid being over-stimulated or under-stimulated by the environment so that the child can perform daily tasks without problems.  Sensory integration therapy is based on four basic principles:

  1. Just Right Challenge – the child should successfully meet all the challenges presented as playful activities
  2. Adaptive Response – the child should adapt his or her behavior with new strategies in response to the challenges
  3. Active Engagement – the child thinks the activities are fun and actively participates
  4. Child Directed – therapeutic experiences in the session are initiated by the child’s preferences

A typical session takes place in a sensory integration room designed to look like a normal playroom.  With the help of an occupational therapist, the child performs activities that combine motion and sensory input, like dancing to music, balancing on a beam, or swinging in a hammock.  These activities will help the child combine appropriate movements with the information he or she gets from the senses.

A qualified occupational therapist can help you determine whether sensory integration therapy is what your child needs to overcome his or her ADHD.  Once your child is thoroughly evaluated, the therapist can make appropriate recommendations that may include home exercises.

Sensory integration may be a useful adjunct of a comprehensive holistic plan to overcome ADHD naturally, such as the UnRitalin Solution.