Sensory integration therapy: What you need to know

By Amanda Morin

Expert reviewed by Keri Wilmot

Sensory integration therapy aims to help kids with sensory processing issues (which some people may refer to as “sensory integration disorder”) by exposing them to sensory stimulation in a structured, repetitive way. The theory behind it is that over time, the brain will adapt and allow kids to process and react to sensations more efficiently.

Sensory integration (SI) therapy should be provided by a specially trained occupational therapist (OT). The OT determines through a thorough evaluation whether your child would benefit from SI therapy. In traditional SI therapy, the OT exposes a child to sensory stimulation through repetitive activities.

The OT gradually makes activities more challenging and complex. The idea is that through repetition, your child’s nervous system will respond in a more “organized” way to sensations and movement.

Sensory integration therapy and sensory diets

Many OTs now use this type of exposure as part of a more extensive “sensory diet” treatment. It includes not only things like balance treatments, movement therapy and structured exposure to sensory input, but also carefully designed and tailored physical activities and .

The routine of activities in a sensory diet fits your child’s exact needs and schedule. They can be done at therapy sessions and at home under your supervision. If you’re interested in SI therapy, get specifics on how sensory diets work and what an example sensory diet can look like.

It’s important to know that not all experts think traditional SI therapy can help kids with sensory processing issues. And many experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, caution that research on SI therapy’s effectiveness is limited and inconclusive.

That’s why it’s key to know about other treatment options and what to do if you’re concerned your child may have sensory processing issues.

Learn more, too, about strategies you can try at home, including ways to help your child cope with:

If you recently discovered your child has sensory processing issues, find out what to do next. Get tips on how to manage sensory meltdowns. And read a mom’s take on how her son’s sensory processing issues helped her understand herself.

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Keri Wilmot has worked with children, teens, and young adults for more than 20 years in a wide range of pediatric settings. Her teenage son has been diagnosed with ADHD.