What is sensory integration?
And how do we create environments that support sensory processing?
A note: Sensory integration and sensory processing disorder is not a complex and multifaceted topic. We won’t cover the entire world of sensory processing but want you to have an informed perspective on how the senses collaborate to help your baby form an experience of the world and how you might help shape their environments to be most supportive to their development.
Sensory integration is what it sounds like - integrating input from our various senses into cohesive and usable information. As adults, we largely forget how fluidly our senses work together on a daily basis to support us in accomplishing everything we do.
Between the 1950’s and the 1980’s occupational therapist and researcher A Jean Ayres pioneered work around the concept of ‘sensory integration’ and named the concept that prevails today. In her work, Ayres discussed the innate drive of a child to explore and master their environments, something they learn to do by responding to increasing ‘demands’ from their environment with the use of learned sensory patterns. It works like this: stronger integration of our senses (and the neural connections that support them) allow us to accomplish increasingly complex tasks which in turn integrates our senses further, allowing us to accomplish more…and so on.
Babies use their senses and their early experiences communicated by their senses to constantly form and refine their understanding of the world, and each sense provides unique aspects of information.
Remember that there are actually 8 sensory systems that combine to help us encounter the world, they are:
- Smell / Olfactory
But as we know, every child is different and not all children process information in the same way. Some children may experience no input from certain senses, too little information, just the right amount, or too much. These deficits or sensitivities to stimuli can create disruptions in a child’s ability to participate in the world, and they are broadly captured under the umbrella term ‘Sensory Processing Disorder’ and happen along a spectrum of sensitivity.
An entire field of research is dedicated to (SPD) Sensory Processing Disorder that we won’t dive fully into here, but we may notice sensory sensitivities in children in a variety of ways. While there are many ways a processing disorder may exhibit, some of the more classic experiences for a child may be lights that feel too bright, sounds that feel too loud, textures that feel scratchy or itchy, balance that may be uneven and difficulty calming themselves.
If you think your child may have some form of Sensory Processing Disorder be sure to speak to your physician and consider speaking with an Occupational Therapist who can help evaluate your child’s experience and needs.
No matter how your child processes sensory information, a better understanding of sensory friendly environments can help us support baby with inputs that either appropriately activate and energize the senses or calm and relax the senses depending on their needs at any given moment. Here are aspects of daily living to consider when thinking about a sensory friendly environment that suits your child:
Are the textures on their skin abrasive in any way? Too tight or too loose? Consider removing clothing tags after purchasing as they may overwhelm your child.
And consider what’s closest to your baby’s skin every moment of the first few years - their diaper!
Our Diapers and Our Pull Up Style Diapers are intentionally designed to be sensory friendly. Our Diapers are enhanced with premium organic cotton for dreamy softness day & night and feature adhesive free elastic ears, adjustable waistband and adaptable leg cuffs to cradle baby perfectly.
Our Pull Up Style Diapers are designed with a quilted 360° flexitech waistband and ultrasoft adaptable leg cuffs, providing a soft, snug, and comfy fit for tots on the move. Premium organic cotton makes pulling our diapers up and down a sensory friendly experience.
Is it too bright? Too dim? Unfortunately our built environments surround us with unnatural sources of light that may be challenging for your child. Notice if your child is having trouble adjusting to the light, and when possible seek natural light!
How much auditory stimulation is there when your child is playing? Is it too loud or are there too many different sounds at once? When you are able, be intentional about how much sound is happening in your child’s environment. If your child enjoys playing with toys that make noises, consider having only 1 available at a time to avoid overstimulation. Quiet environments tend to be better for attention, and you may notice the environment is over-activating if your child covers their ears, or is frightened by loud sounds.
Consider the colors you’ve chosen in the areas that baby spends most of their time. Strong colors can be great for parts of the day that require activity and play, but may be overbearing during times of day that require calm and rest. Take notice of your surroundings.
How organized is your space? Clutter may contribute to a feeling of unease and organized environments tend to be more calming. Take notice of how you have organized your environment. Consider having less items visible to your child at once can help reduce overwhelm and help your child connect to what is immediately available.
- Consider dimming the lights
- Reduce loud noises when possible