Sensory IntegrationBaby College

There are five separate systems in the human body. They are visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), tactile (touch) and taste. As your baby matures, the integration of the different systems housed in different parts of the brain develops. This is the linking of the various systems. The most important links are those between the tactile, auditory and visual sensory systems.

Auditory Integration

To begin with your baby can hear a sound but doesn’t know where it is coming from. As your baby matures, they will turn to look and see where the sound is coming from. In this way reception of sound is enhanced by motor activity, i.e. turning towards a sound, following a sound, and moving towards the sound. Making a sound themselves fascinates babies: not just mouth sounds but clapping hands or banging a rattle. Holding and playing with a rattle teaches your baby that it can control the sound. Increased awareness and interest in sounds teach us to stop our movement to allow us to concentrate on listening skills. These are the first examples of the auditory-visual , auditory-tactile and auditory-motor systems integrating. By the time your baby is nine months old they can locate the source of a sound to within 5°.

When your baby is able to get on the floor and crawl away from you, they are learning to retain their auditory awareness at greater distances. The more personal contacts and opportunities they have to explore the more you will allow them to increase their language and vocabulary.

Visual Integration

Visual-tactile integration is vital. Your baby will not learn about the true nature of what they are seeing unless they can touch it i.e. water and sand pouring out of a cup one is wet and the other is gritty. Babies and young children delight in experiencing all the different textures, but they don’t stop at touching ─ everything must go into the mouth. At their young stage of life, the most important tactile area is that around the mouth. These are the basic receptive integration links. As your baby matures, their dendrites (connections in the brain) multiply and start linking up the various systems. Reading to your baby is so important, pointing out pictures and describing what they can see. Faces of all sorts of animals and cartoon characters fascinate young children and pointing out various elements of the face never fails to delight a child. Constantly including your baby in your conversation, drawing their attention to animals, vehicles, people, and their surroundings introduces the baby to his new world. This is visual-vocal integration The position and relationship between one’s body and the outside world is another essential skill a baby needs develop (visual-motor integration). Visual reception and perception give information of the size, weight, shape, and colour of an object. With all these facts we can move freely, and to move things in relation to ourselves. The ATNR reflex in first three months is very important for your baby. Their arm extends when their head turns to focus on object. To start with it is purely accidental that your baby can touch the object. After some practise your baby realises that it can be a voluntary function and learns to do it at will. Eventually there is no need for the primitive reflex - it has now become a skill. Once the reflex has “burnt out” your baby can bring both hands together and play with them and eventually learns to use them as tools. This then allows your baby to take things into their mouth for further examination. This is the beginning of hand-eye co-ordination. A simple skill to illustrate this is your baby just picking up a ball. Eventually this leads to the development of awareness of spatial dimensions, movement and speed and then catching. It enhances their visual perception of all things and therefore their learning. With practise your baby will learn to thread beads, use a crayon, write, type, and perform all sorts of complicated tasks. Eventually the hand–eye co-ordination becomes so good that it allows a tennis player to watch her opponent serve a ball to her. Her brain is so well integrated that she is able to calculate the speed and flight of the ball. She also needs to organise her feet, body and racket in such a way that she can return the ball as well as having had a momentary check over the net at her opponent to see where she is and work out a plan to try and beat them. This skill is only possible because it has developed from the developmental integration in the early months of life! How you can encourage sensory development and integration · Provide a safe environment for exploration · Provide materials that your baby can explore, using all their senses · Call your baby’s attention to stimuli in the environment · Provide frequent opportunities for social interaction · Provide a variety of stimulation, including toys and environments (get out and about) · Put pictures and mirrors on the walls and floors · Move your baby around the room during the day · Be aware of sensory overload · Remove items when your baby loses interest · Remember, awareness and responsive caregiving are critical in supporting sensory development