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Sensory issues are not really that confusing, if we would only stop confusing them ourselves

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:57pm
People are easily confused whenever someone talks about sensory integration or sensory processing, mostly because of confusing messages that are sent by occupational therapists regarding these issues.

Confusion is evident in the public but it is also interesting evident among occupational therapists and researchers as well. There have been some recent efforts to address this confusion by initiating conversation about 'fidelity' in sensory integration research. This means that when someone claims that a study is about sensory integration that it REALLY is about sensory integration. I encourage people to look at the Sensory Integration Global Network website; it has a lot of good information that helps to clearly define the concept of sensory integration.

However, it is also important to understand that sensory integration research is not equivalent to occupational therapy research. Evidence supporting or refuting a sensory integration approach is NOT the same as evidence supporting or refuting occupational therapy intervention. Children improve function through a variety of therapeutic methods: direct trial practice and training, training in motor control, training in visual perceptual and visual motor skills, and by providing adaptations to the task or the environment. Sensory integration is only one small intervention method. Perhaps this concept is sometimes forgotten.

Occupational therapists need to stay 'on message' when it comes to representing sensory integration methods or other methods of intervention. An example of recent confusion is in the Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners magazine in the article Math and Science. Compare this article and the accompanying tables to the SIGN websites fidelity check-off. If we as professionals can't listen to ourselves regarding the fidelity issue, how can we ever hope to elucidate the nature of these difficulties for others?
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