Neurological Foundations of Sensory Integration

Current neurological research guides therapist’s clinical reasoning for using sensory integration intervention. Recent research proposes that sensory-motor activities help typical youngsters develop internal models of their body and voluntary movements. For example through repeated touch and movement of their thumb as well as learning to ride a bicycle, children develop internal models. With repeated practice these internal models become integrated neurological representations allowing automatic feed-forward control for functional activities. We become able to automatically locate and use our thumb without looking and can ride a bike on a flat road without concentrating on the integrated arm, leg, and balance reactions involved.


Sensory integration challenges appear related to dysfunctional interactions between the neocortex, basal ganglia and cerebellum. These dysfunctional neurological connections cause many children with sensory integration or developmental challenges to experience sensory over-sensitivity, under-sensitivity, body image, and movement planning challenges. For example, individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders and other developmental challenges appear to show significant differences from typical children in representations by the somatosensory cortex of their thumb that may reflect disrupted internal models (Coskun et al. 2009).


Sensory integration intervention appears to promote development of internal models of body image and movement through active exploration that provides naturalistic pressure, touch, movement, visual, and auditory sensory input at an optimal level of challenge.  Sensory integration intervention involves clinical reasoning based on experience and neurological research in gradually guiding active movements involving pressure, touch, movement, visual and auditory sensory input to improve functional skills.  An understanding of this current neurological research regarding development of internal models can be useful to therapists for clinical reasoning during sensory integration intervention.


Koziol, L. F., Budding, D. E., & Chidekel, D. (2011). Sensory integration, sensory processing, and sensory modulation disorders: Putative functional neuroanatomic underpinnings. Cerebellum, 10, 770-792. 

Marco, E. J., Hinkley, L. B., Hill, S. S. & Nagarajan, S. S. (2011). Sensory processing in Autism: A review of neurophysiologic findings. Pediatric Research, 69, 48R-54R.


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