As defined by Jean Ayres, sensory integration is a neurological process that allows us to understand our world by organizing and interpreting information that we receive from our senses. When sensory integration is impaired, social, emotional, academic, motor and functional problems can arise. Since Ayres introduced this concept, our understanding of sensory integration has vastly expanded. However, occupational therapists and other health professions are still trying to comprehend this problematic research area. Related to sensory integration is the concept of self-regulation and arousal.
Self-regulation is defined as a person's ability to control and adjust their arousal or energy level, behaviours, attention and emotions and appropriately respond depending on the context. Self-regulation skills are developed throughout childhood as children experience the world around them. Self-regulation skills help children cope with stressful or difficult circumstances in their life. Some examples of occupational therapists working with children include those who may be sensitive to noise or light, easily distracted in the classroom, have restricted eating habits, under-reactive to certain sensations like touch or name-calling. Occupational therapists work with children to help develop self-regulation skills to enable them to reach their fullest potential. Occupational therapists aim to help children learn and develop the skills necessary to respond appropriately with behaviours that enable them to participate in day-to-day activities.