Sensory motor integration refers to a relationship between the sensory system (nerves) and the motor system (muscles). Also, it refers to the process by which these two systems (sensory and motor) communicate and coordinate with each other.

Sensory motor integration skills are developed during the period of growth from birth to about age 7. During these years, the child mainly senses things and then moves his body in relation to those sensations. His growth in all other mental and social functions will be based upon this foundation of sensory-motor integration.

In the process of developing sensory motor integration a child first learns to move and then he learns through movement. Learning to move involves continuous development in a child’s ability to use the body with more and more skillful purposeful movement. Then, through this movement, the child learns more about himself as he explores his environment.

The process has three parts: (1)a sense organ receives a stimulus, (2) the nerves carry the information to the brain where the information is interpreted. (3) The brain then determines what response to make and transmits its instructions to the appropriate group of muscle fibers that carry out the response.

These two systems work together as a team, and if the sending nerve impulses are problematic, the brain will not receive the message, and if the breakdown is in the motor nerves, the muscles will not get a clear message and will not be able to give the correct motor response.

Academic abilities as well as behavior and emotional growth rest upon the full integration of these two factors during maturation as sensory motor integration is occurring.

Impact of Sensory Motor Development on Academic Achievement

These skills and the order in which they are developed can be critical to a child's learning. Such things as balance, left/right development, knowing where their body is in space, etc. can affect a child's ability to sit in class and focus, follow a teacher's instructions, or move through an assignment efficiently without getting lost.

Also, the self confidence that comes with being in control of his body will allow him to move freely and explore his world more thoroughly. This additional movement will open his mind to more learning and enhance his personality and intellect. On the other hand, an immature sensory motor integration system has the opposite effect upon the child’s academics. Sometimes referred to as fine motor skills, a poorly integrated system is seen most often as poor handwriting, poor balance, or an inability to sit still. Even with extra effort the child may not be able to bring his motor performance up to a level comparable to that of his peers. Also, a longer time is required to complete the written work that he is able to do.

The extra time required to perform a task may evoke criticism that is unwarranted if the teacher or parent is unaware of the child’s problem. Criticism or encouragement to work faster or to try harder leads to emotional issues like poor self-esteem. With constant reminders that he is not meeting expectations, the child begins to feel badly about himself because he is making his best effort and it just isn't good enough. This adds an emotional component to the problem that may impact the development of adequate social skills.

Clues to Immature Sensory Motor Integration

Here are some additional observed behaviors that should alert one to the presence of a problem:

  • Avoids writing tasks or assignments
  • Difficulty with hand-eye coordination, difficulty hitting a ball, copying from the blackboard
  • Appears to be clumsy, has difficulty running, bumps into things, poor at sports, moving all the time;
  • Has difficulty with directionality, confuses right and left, etc.
  • Has difficulty getting dressed, does not know which article of clothing to put on first
  • Has not developed a dominant right or left hand or foot
  • Has difficulty crossing the mid-line of the body
  • Difficulty balancing, hopping or standing on one foot

Prognosis for Sensory Motor Integration Disabilities

As with all learning disabilities, the earlier a sensory motor integration problem is identified and intervention started, the better the outcome. In the pre-school years, birth to age 5, intervention and/or prevention should consist of outdoor full body exercises such as walking, running, jumping, swinging, and other activities appropriate for the age. If you feel that professional evaluation is needed, inform you family doctor and ask if referral for further evaluation is necessary.

When the child enters school or is of school age, the problem should be brought to the attention of the classroom teacher with a request for referral for evaluation to determine the appropriateness of special education services.

If special education is recommended, our LD Reference Book outlines the steps in the process and prepares the parent who has been introduced to special education for the first time.

Leave Sensory Motor Integration go to Childhood Obesity and Learning

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