Sensory Integration (SI) is defined on Wikipedia (as of this posting) as “the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment”.
There are a few problems with this definition, but what do you expect from Wikipedia? It does begin to convey the sense of what we’re talking about. To begin with, to call SI ‘THE neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and the environment’ is a little misleading. There are varied processes involved, and not all of them necessarily at the same time. SI occurs when we are sleeping as well as during wakefulness, whether we are ill or our brains are damaged. It is not so much ‘a’ process, as simply the way our brains are wired.
All sensation is wired through the thalamus. It is a symmetrical bi-lobar mass in the center of the hemispheres, behind the eyes and between the ears. The thalamus is very tightly integrated with the basal ganglia, responsible for management of FAP’s (fixed action patterns). The thalamus, through its intralaminar nuclei and pathways, project back upon the basal ganglia. So, all sensory input is collected and managed in the thalamus, and motor mapping is assembled and stored in the basal ganglia (and spine). The basal ganglia – thalamus complex is, for all intents and purposes, the seat of consciousness.
As with any neurological complex, things can go awry during development or afterwards due to trauma or disease. It is easy to see how even small changes in such complex networks as these can affect sensory perception and integration, and lead to learning or reading concerns, for example. The neurology of the integrated senses also points to the need to incorporate multiple sensory modalities into training. Indeed, visual training that incorporates hearing, vestibular sense, proprioception and kinesthesis, will be much more effective and yield faster results than VT that relies solely on ‘eye exercises’.
This video is simple enough to show to parents and does a fair job of explaining how senses integrate to allow for multi-modal perception. This is NOT an academic video by any stretch, but it does deliver on accessibility.The link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_Iuj8dr9oY