Sensory integration products and equipment come in many different shapes and sizes, addressing specific sensory inputs, sensory integration difficulties and supporting sensory play and sensory integration therapies.
As they have such a wide range of applications, when looking to learn more about sensory integration products and equipment it’s vital to ‘start at the beginning’: understanding what sensory integration is – and how sensory integration difficulties can be treated with therapy that uses such equipment.
It’s impossible to answer the question ‘what is sensory integration?’ without also explaining the trademarked term: Ayres Sensory Integration®.
According to Ayres, the sensory systems we depend on for input include vision, auditory, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body awareness), and vestibular (balance and motion) and interoception (internal sense) - which is why you will often see sensory integration therapy equipment targeting these different sensory systems. Sensory integration is how we integrate these sensory systems to develop skills – particularly through childhood - and how we use them to react to an environment.
Essentially, sensory integration is how we use our senses to perceive and process information and then engage in typical everyday activities.
An example of sensory integration is:
In this example, the baby has used their senses to process information and make a decision or complete an activity.
This is a simple example and sensory integration is applied in a multitude of different everyday scenarios – at the end of the day, we’re all sensory beings! We all need sensory input to grow, learn and develop throughout childhood and as adults. Sensory integration, in this regard, is a process that every human does all the time.
Occupational therapists utilise sensory integration theories to help them distinguish when sensory integration and processing is or isn’t developing as expected.
Sensory integration dysfunction is a formerly used term for sensory integration disorder, although many of today’s professionals will refer more specifically to sensory integration difficulties. In the UK, we only identify sensory integration difficulties, as there is no recognised diagnostic label at this point in time.
Sensory integration disorder or difficulties are when an individual is not able to process, and react appropriately to, the information being received by their senses. It is not a formal diagnosis and does not mean a child will have learning difficulties; but instead can be found in individuals with no diagnoses as well as those with identified diagnoses, such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
There are many, many ways sensory integration difficulties can present themselves – varying on the context, the individual and environment. Generally, though, sensory integration difficulties are problems effectively integrating sensations which can limit an individual’s ability to interact with others, perform co-ordinated actions, develop relationships, perform tasks, play, learn and participate in activities, for example with family or within a classroom environment.
As explained above, sensory input is the receiving of information through senses including visual, auditory, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), proprioceptive (body position), and vestibular (balance and movement) and interoception.
The development of sensory integration rooms began in the Netherlands in the 1970’s. The initial idea was to deliver stimulation to the various senses of the user, both to relax and calm, while engaging or prompting people with special needs to take notice of their surroundings.
A sensory integration room is largely used by occupational therapists to help develop an individual's confidence and mobility skills. The rooms are often used to stimulate or calm a user, depending on whether the child needs up- or down-regulating, and the occupational therapist will choose specific pieces of equipment to support this.
Sensory products help people to engage their senses (i.e., smell, sight, taste, hearing, body position and balance and motion). When used within a sensory integration therapy setting, with a trained occupational therapist, these products can be used to help inform therapies for individuals where sensory development has not progressed as expected.
Weighted sensory products are often used by occupational therapists to deliver deep touch pressure therapy (DTP). The theory behind this therapy is that it delivers firm tactile sensory input, which can have a calming, soothing effect and produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Different weighted sensory products work in different ways – depending on how they are used, the setting within which they are used and the individual using them. Some weighted products deliver pressure to an individual and others encourage sensory input from resistance. That’s why occupational therapists will often use a range of weighted sensory products to aid their therapy plans, and that’s why Southpaw has developed and manufactured a broad range of weighted sensory products.
You can see one of our weighted sensory products, designed to work with different levels of pressure, in our video: The Southpaw Steamroller where Viv Chamberlain, advanced sensory integration practitioner, explains how the product can be used.
Many studies have been conducted into the effectiveness of weighted blankets – for example, one American study found sleeping with a weighted blanket can encourage calmness and lessen anxiety.
Generally, weighted blankets provide proprioceptive input which can assist calming. They can assist those with sensory processing difficulties and diagnoses such as autism, ADD or ADHD, stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation.
Weighted blankets should only be used under the direction and advice of an occupational therapist or other suitably qualified health professional.
Sensory integration equipment is designed to support the intervention process of Ayres Sensory Integration®. Many of these interventions are centred around play, allowing various sensory experiences and action planning in a guided setting, such as a professional practice and overseen by a ASI trained therapist.
Sensory integration equipment can be used in sensory play scenarios, where sensory play supports normal sensory development. However, when used by a trained professional in a therapy setting, the equipment is integral to helping apply clinical reasoning and deliver sensory integration therapy.
Supporting therapies that influence how a person receives and processes sensory information, Southpaw products have been designed to be used alongside Ayres Sensory Integration®. With sensory integration therapy, our equipment encourages different responses to sensation, can help to reduce distress, and can help to improve motor skills, adaptive responses, concentration, and interaction with others.
Occupational therapists can complete Masters level qualifications, to deliver the intervention process of Ayres Sensory Integration®. As a result, these occupational therapists deliver sensory integration therapy to address sensory integration difficulties.
Occupational therapists are integral in the delivery of sensory integration therapy - without their input and therapy plans, the use of sensory integration equipment is sensory play, not therapy. With their range of expertise in the world of sensory integration, we, at Southpaw, work closely with trusted occupational therapists to research and develop our products – which is why they are much-loved in the industry, providing quality, tested and long-lasting sensory integration equipment.
A comprehensive sensory integration assessment essentially aims to decipher how an individual copes with different sensory inputs, and different sensory input loads. An assessment should focus on how the patient’s behaviour is affected by their ability to process their senses. As a result, an occupational therapist will be able to develop a sensory integration therapy plan to address any difficulties identified in processing sensory input.
Outside of therapy-led, guided settings, sensory integration equipment is widely used to provide benefits such as improvements in behaviour, learning and social participation. You may want to discuss with an occupational therapist the different equipment you may be able to use at home, or how to best use it to deliver benefits.
Ready to begin your sensory integration journey?
Discover the fantastic range of Southpaw sensory integration products, perfect for use in clinics, schools and at home, in our free catalogue.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to create a sensory integration therapy room or space, our free design service is your first exciting step towards developing a space that’s bespoke to you and your needs.