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SPD is also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction

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Definitions of Sensory Terms

by Rondalyn V. Whitney, MOT, OTR/L

  • Dyspraxia: Difficulty in planning, sequencing, and carrying out unfamiliar actions in a skillful manner. Poor motor planning is the result of dyspraxia.

  • Praxis: is the ability to interact successfully with the physical environment; to plan, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions; and to do what one intends, wants, and needs to do in an efficient, satisfying manner. It is a broad term which actually includes:

    • Ideation: the thought, planning an idea in the mind, ability to visualize the activity

    • Motor Planning:  making a plan for the action

    • Execution: actually doing the activity or “executing” the action

  • Dysgraphia: Graphia (writing) is the ability to perform tasks associated with letter formation. Often used as a synonym with writing.

  • Letter formation: the ability to make a letter on a page using eye-hand coordination, correct posture, directionality, and visual motor memory.

  • Writing: includes both letter formation and written expression (conception of thought and written execution of ideas). When writing is inconsistent, sometimes letters are formed from the bottom, sometimes from the top resulting in a haphazard print style that is difficult to read and laborious to produce. The act of writing uses both cognitive and motor skills. When the letter formation is not automatic, a child’s approach to handwriting uses an unsuccessful strategy of cognition (thinking about letter formation) which robs the thought process of needed energy for the creation and expression of thought. Integration of the motor planning of letter formation makes writing an automatic rather than a cognitive act
    [Activity: Demonstration of Non-automatic Letter Formation and Written Expression]

  • Motor In-coordination: clumsy, often used to describe problems associated with praxis and motor planning

  • Social Cognition: The ability to understand the rules and concepts for social interaction to include understanding pragmatic speech, social rules of etiquette, proximity, objectics, gestures, inferences, abstractions, idioms, etc.

  • Directionality: the ability to understand directions (up/down, front/back, left/right) as they related to function

  • Somatosensory: From a sensory integrative perspective, learning occurs when a person receives accurate sensory information, processes it, and uses it to organize behaviors. When children receive inaccurate or unreliable sensory input, then their ability to process the information and create responses is disrupted. Poor sensory processing can take the form of over-responsivity such as becoming agitated when someone brushes against you or under-responsivity such as needing to be tapped on the shoulder several times to gain attention.
    Somatosensory refers to "sensations arising from the body" and includes tactile (touch) and proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive input refers to information from our muscles and joints and provides feedback to allow us to know where our body is, where it is moving, and how much force is being used.

  • Proprioception: The unconscious awareness of sensations coming from one’s joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments; the “position sense”. Receptor sites are in the joints and the muscles. This sense underlies one’s ability to place body parts in a position in space and to grade movements (i.e. the ability to judge direction of force and pressure.

  • Vestibular: The sensory system that responds to changes in head and body movement through space, and that coordinates movements of the eyes, head, and body. Receptor site is in the inner ear. Intimately connected to receptors of auditory (hearing) and visual senses. Gravitational Insecurity (an extreme fear and anxiety that one will fall when one’s head position changes) is a function of the vestibular system

  • Hypersensitivity or Hyposensitivity: The overly responsivity or under-responsivity to sensory information or input through the mouth (tactile), nose (olfactory), eyes (visual), skin (tactile), balance (vestibular), movement (proprioception). Hypersensitivity results in tendency to be fearful and cautious or negative and defiant. Hyposensitivity results in a tendency to crave intense sensations or to withdraw and be difficult to engage.

  • Tactile: information taken into the body through the sense of touch (skin). Can be through the deep pressure receptors (activates discriminative system) or light pressure receptors (activates the protective system).

  • Visual-spatial organization: the ability to perceive and interpret what the eyes see. Need to be able to take in information through the sense organ (eyes) and interpret it (occipital lobe) and organize it for use (frontal lobe, sensorimotor areas, etc). Includes depth perception, directionality, form constancy, position in space, spatial awareness (distance between you and objects), visual discrimination, visual figure-ground (between objects). Also includes vertical/horizontal/diagonal perception and plane integration. Essential for success in mathematical performance.

  • Low tone/low endurance: the lack of supportive muscle tone, usually with increased mobility at the joints; the person with low tone has limbs that are floppy, appear to not be attached to the body, and have awkward movement patterns. This lack of muscle tone results in poor ability to act in a sustained state of alert performance.

  • Sensory Integration: A neurological l approach to enhancing occupational performance through supporting a more normalized response to sensory input. a. Registration: the ability for the body to register that sensation has occurred

  • Modulation or regulation: the ability for the nervous system to filter out or let in various forms of sensory information

  • Integration: the act of being able to integrate or bring together sensory motor functions in a useful, functional level of performance.

  • Sensory diet: the multisensory experiences that one normally seeks to satisfy the sensory appetite.

  • Occupational Therapy: A health profession that helps people improve the functioning of their nervous system in order to develop skills leading to greater independence in personal, social, academic, and vocational pursuits. An OT is trained in biological, physical, and behavioral sciences including neurology, anatomy, development, kinesiology, orthopedics, psychiatry and psychology.


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