Sensory Integration On Vacation
While packing the beach towels, think about the vacation you are planning and how the activities and new situations might affect your family members. Even if you are not familiar with the concept of sensory integration, take a minute to imagine how your spouse and children react to smells, noise levels, and crowds.
Sensory input comes from tactile (touch), sound (auditory), visual (seeing), olfactory (smelling) and the lesser known vestibular and proprioceptive senses. The vestibular sense relates predominately to balance and the force gravity exerts on our bodies. The proprioceptive sense refers to the information coming through our joints and muscles as to where our body is in space. The processing and organizing of sensory information by our nervous system is sensory integration.
Lets start with touch. Do you have children who are only comfortable in certain clothes, find labels scratchy, and complain about socks with seams? These childrens sensitivity to touch may also show up in crowded places where other people are close and could knock into them. Sunscreen and sand are other challenges to the tactile system for some kids.
Vacation ought to be a treat for the visual sense. Some children have difficult time processing visual information and new situations remove their established visual framework. Sometimes explaining the new surroundings will help them adapt and understand what they see.
Think about noise and how it affects you and your kids. Watching fireworks from a distance or giving earplugs to a child can help them manage the noise. If some family members are overwhelmed by the bustle of the city, find a quiet place to eat or play in a park for awhile. Giving a sensitive child time to regroup can help them manage themselves better, and adults may also enjoy a quiet escape.
What new smells might you encounter on vacation? Street vendors, different foods and city air may jangle olfactory nerves. The fresh fish market may be fun for you, but the fish smells may overpower another person. Eliminating smells is difficult, but awareness can lessen the surprise. Again, look for a place to take a break.
Challenges to the vestibular and proprioceptive senses may be more subtle. These senses relate to ones comfort in moving their body through space and getting around the physical environment. Amusement park rides obviously can be thrilling or terrifying depending on ones security with losing some control of your body in space. Riding in cars, buses, train, subways, and airplanes all affect our vestibular sense.
So, sensory integration refers to the ability of ones nervous system to process and adjust to information coming in from the senses. A person who can regulate themselves in spite of being bombarded by sensory input has a high level of sensory integration while one who falls apart at extra stimulation has a much more fragile sensory system. By being aware, you can help your children learn to regulate their sensory systems. As they learn to regulate themselves, everyone will be happier.