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Sensory Integration and Processing

Virginia Spielmann, MSc OT, PhD(C), Carrie Dishlip, MS, CCC-SLP

December 21, 2020



Why is it important for SLPs to understand sensory integration and processing?


Sensory integration and processing are important to SLPs because of the way people take in, process, and interpret and integrate. Sensation impacts the way they develop, learn, communicate, and interact with the world. From conception onwards, every event is ‘sensory’ first and, multiple sensory systems converge in order to generate a mental image of self and world.  This, combined with memory and cognitive processing creates the ‘whole picture’ a person has of the world.

Capacity for sensory integration and processing has a significant impact on engagement, interaction, and other foundational tools for communication. In order to effectively build and expand communication, it is important for SLPs to understand the fundamentals of sensory processing and integration and how to use sensation to support all developmental processes related to language and learning.

Assume that an infant is born into a calm, consistent, and well-attuned family. To bond with her caregivers, she must sense them, sense her own body, and have a sense of being safe/needs being met? She must be able to interpret touch and smell in a way that communicates connection, responsive caregiving, and fulfillment of basic needs. She must be able to sense that she was soothed by the provisions of her caregivers in response to her crying (perhaps she was hungry). She must be able to interpret basic visual stimuli in a way that helps her interpret the world, caregivers, cause and effect, and all the patterns therein including the most basic first stages of serve and return interactions.

Sensations tell us about our internal state and the external world. Through sensation we learn to feel safe, move, impact the world, engage in self-care, form relationships and so much more. Sensory integration and processing is incredibly complex and involves innumerable sensory receptors sending information to multiple regions of the brain where stimuli are integrated, interpreted, and processed. This information then produces a response, behavior, or action plan that supports interaction with others.

In summary, we need to sense the world and our bodies within the world, in order to make sense of who we are (i.e. to have a sense of self). At the very earliest stages of development, this is mostly simple cause and effect (eg., "I do something and the world changes"). However, to understand this most fundamental part of human development, we rely on intact sensory integration and processing.

Refer to the SpeechPathology.com course, 20Q: Understanding Sensory Integration and Processing, for more information on the theories of sensory processing function and dysfunction, potential impact on communication skills, and considerations for SLPs' therapeutic practice. 

virginia spielmann

Virginia Spielmann, MSc OT, PhD(C)

Virginia Spielmann is Executive Director STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. She serves as the Clinical Consultant for the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning. Virginia was trained in Occupational Therapy at Oxford Brookes University, in England. She completed her Masters in Occupational Therapy in the USA and is finishing her PhD in Infant and Early Childhood Development with an emphasis on mental health with Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara.

Virginia is a well-traveled speaker, coach and educator on topics including sensory integration and processing, DIR/Floortime, child development and infant mental health. She has conducted trainings around the world and leads workshops at international conferences.

carrie dishlip

Carrie Dishlip, MS, CCC-SLP

Carrie Dishlip received her Master of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology from The University of Arizona in 2004. She has worked with clients with Disordered Sensory Integration and Processing in home, school, and clinical settings. Carrie has taken the University of Southern California Advanced Training in Sensory Integrative Dysfunction and the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Mentorship level 1 trainings. She has led professional and parent workshops on communication development, social skills, and sensory integration and processing.

Related Courses

20Q: Understanding Sensory Integration and Processing
Presented by Virginia Spielmann, MSc OT, PhD(C), Carrie Dishlip, MS, CCC-SLP


Virginia Spielmann, MSc OT, PhD(C)Carrie Dishlip, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #9444Level: Intermediate1.5 Hours
  'Provided excellent information'   Read Reviews
Sensory integration and processing is foundational to human development, engagement and relationships. This course will discuss theories of sensory processing function and dysfunction, potential impact on communication skills, and considerations for SLPs' therapeutic practice.

Understanding and Treating Echolalia: When You Means I
Presented by Lisa R. Audet, PhD, CCC-SLP


Lisa R. Audet, PhD, CCC-SLP
Course: #10261Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Loved this course'   Read Reviews
Echolalic speech can reflect a Gestalt learning style that often accompanies hyperlexia and reading comprehension difficulties. This course provides an explanation of echolalia based on this framework, and describes related characteristics common in children with autism. Intervention strategies related to language, literacy, and socialization are also discussed.

Regulation and Its Impact on Speech and Language Skills of Children, Part 2
Presented by Joleen R. Fernald, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL, Lyn Bennett, OTR/L


Joleen R. Fernald, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CLLyn Bennett, OTR/L
Course: #10286Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Loved the videos'   Read Reviews
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Speech-language pathologists see children with a variety of communication disorders, often with co-morbid issues such as sensory processing disorder (SPD) and regulatory challenges. The impact of SPD and regulatory difficulties on speech/language skills is discussed, and strategies that support each sensory system in order to coregulate with children during therapy are provided.

20Q: Providing Supportive Intervention for Trauma-Exposed Students with Communication Disorders
Presented by Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, PhD, CCC-SLP, F-ASHA


Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, PhD, CCC-SLP, F-ASHA
Course: #10310Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'Excellent course to help out with trauma-exposed students with communication disorders post-pandemic 2020! Gave great examples varying on ages and scenarios and what to do to help out students and caregivers'   Read Reviews
The definition of childhood trauma, the experiences that constitute trauma in a student’s life, and the concept of trauma-informed intervention are described in this course. Practical, hands-on suggestions are provided for strategies that support students with communication disorders who have experienced trauma, and activities to improve their social and executive function skills.

Autism Outreach Podcast: Strategies for Generalizing Language Skills
Presented by Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA, Katie Castro, MA, CCC-SLP, BCaBA


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Course: #9803Level: Introductory0.5 Hours
  'Good introduction to presented information'   Read Reviews
This podcast discusses generalization and provides strategies to help students generalize their skills outside of the therapy environment. Multiple real-world examples are used to describe methods for specific data collection and parent training.

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