Sensory Motor Integration

What is it?

Sensory motor integration is a term used to describe how muscles process and respond to signals from the nervous system. Impairments can result from damage or miscommunication between the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. This can lead to a struggle with body awareness as well as trouble connecting all of the pieces of the sensory puzzle (i.e., vision, hearing, touch, knowledge of body position, etc.)

Why is this important?

As a child ages, he or she learns how to move and uses the information communicated from all senses to improve the coordination of movement. During their early years, it is important for children to explore their environment, and positive responses to their experiences facilitate the ability to use their senses to aid movement and control posture. The challenge of perceptual motor planning increases with age, but children can learn how to use all of their senses together to improve spatial perception and coordination.

What are some signs of challenges in this area?

You may notice your child having difficulty performing certain daily activities, whether during playtime or with tasks like getting dressed or feeding, due to poor coordination between the motor and sensory systems. You may also notice your child having difficulty walking on uneven surfaces, such as grass, soft carpet, or sand. Perhaps you notice that your child does not interact with or appears uninterested in his or her environment. Children may also show signs of overstimulation such as becoming fussy, looking away from objects, or not interacting with people. They may show these signs of frustration or apathy due to difficulty with sensory motor integration. Learning throughout childhood typically is facilitated by all senses; your child may be experiencing a challenge of processing one or more senses and translating that information into meaningful interactions and movement.

How can PT help?

Physical therapists can address sensory impairments when creating a plan of care specific to your child’s needs. Often, the lack of coordination that results from poor communication between nerve and muscle tissue can lead to difficulty with physical tasks like throwing and catching objects, dressing, kicking a ball, jumping, and many other activities. Physical therapy can help improve motor sensory integration by incorporating sensory stimulation into motor activities to improve coordination between the systems. In the therapy world, we have saying: “use it or lose it.” The best way to improve and preserve sensory perception is to stimulate neurons with specific activities and a plan suited for your child. Physical therapy is an excellent way to achieve that goal as it can connect sensory and motor activities in the same session.