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Therapy Source Career Center - June 2019

Sensory Integration and Processing

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

December 21, 2020

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Question

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

Answer

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.


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