Milestones & More: The Sensory System
Nora Hedgecock, OTR/L - May 12, 2020
We are all getting constant information from the world around us through our senses. This sensory information tells us if we are safe and helps us understand what’s going on around us. We rely on it to respond to our environment effectively and appropriately – to catch our balance if we trip over a bump in the sidewalk, to chat with a friend in a crowded café, to sit and focus in a meeting – to do just about anything!
The Hidden Senses
We all have eight (yes, eight!) senses we rely on understand our world and ourselves. Of course, we have the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch) we learned about in school. But we also have three, very important, “hidden senses”:
- Vestibular – sense of movement and balance
- Proprioception – body awareness, understanding where our body is in space and how our body is moving
- Interoception – sense of internal organs, and our internal body’s needs like hunger, thirst, and going to the bathroom
What is sensory integration?
Sensory integration is the process where our brain makes sense of all the sensory information we are receiving throughout or body. It occurs without thought, like breathing. We depend on our brain’s ability to make sense of all the sensory information coming in from our eight senses at the same time so that we can regulate our emotions and body in order to respond appropriately to the world and people around us.
Why is sensory development important for baby?
In childhood, sensory integration helps kids develop countless skills, including:
- Gross and fine motor abilities
- Core strength
- Self-care skills like dressing
- Body awareness and coordination
- Emotion regulation
- Attention and learning
Sensory integration, the skill of organizing sensory information, develops in childhood – starting in infancy! Babies develop sensory integration by interacting with the world around them. Knowing this, there are many experiences we can introduce to baby to help this process.
Support baby’s vestibular system (important for balance, motor skills, attention, and emotional regulation) by:
- Introducing different types of movement such as tummy time, rocking, bouncing, and swinging, from an early age.
Support baby’s proprioceptive system (important for body awareness and emotional regulation) with:
- Infant massage using lotion, swaddling, gentle squishes up and down body with a pillow
Support baby’s tactile system (important for feeding, self-care tasks, fine motor skills) by:
- Gently touch and tickle different body parts
Your baby’s first few months are a time of constant learning and growth as they begin to explore the world around them. There is so much you can do at home to support baby’s development by enriching the environment with a few simple activities. We will be talking more about baby’s sensory development and sharing lots of activities for home in our newborn parenting class!
We hope to “see” you soon!
Ayres, A. Jean, et al. Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges. Western Psychological Services, 2018.
Bodison MA, OTR/L, Stefanie, et al. “About Ayres Sensory Integration.” Aota.org, American Occupational Therapy Association, 2008, www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Children/Resources/FAQs/SI%20Fact%20Sheet%202.pdf.