Our senses give us the information we need to function in the world. The senses receive information from stimuli both outside and inside our bodies. Every sound we hear, every move we make, every object we touch produces sensations. Sensory integration is the neurological process that organizes all the sensations we receive from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible for the body to function effectively within the environment. Sensory integration deals with how the brain processes multiple sensory modality inputs, such as proprioception, vision, auditory system, tactile, olfactory, vestibular system, and taste into appropriate responses.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Children and adults with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Depression, and Alzheimer’s Dementia, often experience sensory overload, anxiety, restlessness, chronic stress, which result in meltdowns, irregular sleeping patterns and poor attention spans. This is partly due to their difficulty to inhibit or filter non-essential sensory information such as background noises, and their poor ability to calm and self-modulate their arousal level. Children with sensory modulation difficulties often cannot participate in seated activities, particularly fine motor activities, long enough to complete tasks. They may also display behaviour that is not considered socially acceptable, making it a challenge for them to integrate well in social settings.
Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist Dr. Anna Jean Ayres, PhD, likened sensory disorders to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.
Calming Effect of Deep Touch Pressure
Deep touch pressure refers to a form of tactile sensory input which is often provided by firm holding, firm stroking, cuddling, hugging, and squeezing. Deep touch pressure acts as a calming or focusing agent to increase activity in the parasympathetic division, and lower activity in the sympathetic division of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) (Hsin-Yung Chen et. al., 2011). This opposite movement of activity in the two divisions together work to amongst other things, increase endorphin levels (happy hormones) and decrease heart rate and blood pressure (indicators of anxiety and stress). Deep touch pressure also causes the release of both serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are “happy” neurotransmitters and produce a feeling of calm within our nervous system.
Deep touch pressure’s role as a calming agent benefits individuals suffering from chronic stress, anxiety pain and unrest (for eg: individuals with developmental disabilities, dementia and other special needs). It also benefits individuals with high levels of anxiety (anxiety disorders) or arousal. By helping to calm these individuals, deep touch pressure improves their ability to cope with stress and anxieties, giving them more control over their lives, hence allowing for a better quality of life. For individuals with proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile sensory seeking behaviours, deep touch pressure gives them the sensory input they require and crave in order for the body to function effectively with the environment.
T.Jacket’s revolutionary wearable technology stimulates deep touch pressure on the body’s joints and muscles using laterally applied air pressure controlled via a mobile app, which helps to provide sensory input, and calm individuals facing sensory modulation difficulties, stress and anxiety.
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2. Temple Grandin, Ph.D (1992), Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
3. Hsin-Yung Chen et. al. (2011), Physiological Effects of Deep Touch Pressure on Anxiety Alleviation , Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering
4. Tina Champagne & Nan Stromberg (2004), Sensory Approaches in Inpatient Psychiatric Settings – Innovative Alternatives to Seclusion & Restraint, Journal of Psychosocial Nursing
5. Nancy L. VandenBerg (2001), The Use of a Weighted Vest To Increase On-Task Behavior in Children With Attention Difficulties, The American Journal of Occupational Therapy
6. Teresa A. May-Benson & Tina Champagne (2011), Occupational Therapy Using a Sensory Integration–Based Approach With Adult Populations, American Occupational Therapy Association Fact Sheet
7. Roseann C. Schaaf et. al. (2013) An Intervention for Sensory Difficulties in Children with Autism: A Randomized Trial, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders