Terminology Related to Sensory
Processing and Sensory Integration

Compiled for you by: Jennifer Rosinia, PhD, OTR/L
Kid Links Unlimited, Inc.

ADAPTIVE RESPONSE: An appropriate action in which the individual responds successfully to environmental demands. Adaptive responses require good sensory integration, and they also further the sensory integrative process.

ANTI-GRAVITY POSTURE: Holdings one's body in a position against the pull of gravity.

AROUSAL: A neurological state of alertness that readies a person to pay attention and respond.

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER: A psychiatric diagnosis characterized by inattention, impulsivity and over-activity.

BILATERAL COORDINATION: The use of both sides of the body together in a coordinated fashion.

BODY IMAGE: A person's perception (or mental picture) of his or her own body, knowing where the body parts are and how they relate. Also known a body map, body scheme or body percept, it consists of sensory images or "maps" of the body stored in the brain.

BRAIN STEM: The lower extension of the brain where it connects to the spinal cord. Neurological functions located in the brainstem include those necessary for survival (breathing, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure) and for arousal (being awake and alert)

CEREBRAL CORTEX: The most highly evolved part of the brain responsible for higher functions of the nervous system, including voluntary muscle activity and learning, language, and memory.

COCONTRACTION: The simultaneous contraction of all the muscles around a joint in order to stabilize it.

DYSPRAXIA: Difficulty planning and carrying out sequences of movement that are unfamiliar in a skilled fashion.
Dyspraxia is often related to poor somatosensory processing.

EQUILIBRIUM: A term used to mean balance.

EXTENSION: The action of straightening the neck, back, arms, or legs.

FACILITATION: Enhancement and/or increased sensitization to sensory input.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT: An automatic response of the nervous system defending oneself from real or perceived danger. Reactions include running away, freezing, and/or becoming aggressive.

FINE MOTOR: Referring to movement of the smaller muscles in the body typically the fingers, eyes, toes, tongue and occasionally the sphincter muscles.

FLEXION: The act of bending or pulling in a part of the body.

GRAVITATIONAL INSECURITY: An unusual degree of anxiety or fear in response to movement or change in head.
position; related to poor processing of vestibular and proprioception information.

GROSS MOTOR: Referring to the movement of the larger muscles in the body typically the arms, legs and trunk.

HABITUATION: Automatic response that helps one to tune out unimportant or routine sensory input.

HYPERSENSITIVITY: An over active or exaggerated response to sensory input characterized by behavior that is fearful and cautious or negative and defiant.

HYPOSENSITIVITY: An underactive or understated response to sensory input characterized by behavior that causes a person to become difficult to engage or to have a tendency to crave intense sensations.

INHIBITION: Decreased sensitivity to sensory input .

KINESTHESIA: Perception of the movement of individual body parts; dependent on proprioception.

LATERALIZATION: The tendency for certain processes to be handled more efficiently on one side of the brain than on the other. In most people, the right hemisphere becomes more efficient in processing spatial information, while the left hemisphere specializes in verbal and logical processes.

LEARNING DISORDER: Also called learning disability, there is a difficulty in learning to read, write, compute, or do school work that cannot be attributed to impaired sight or hearing, or to mental retardation.

LIMBIC SYSTEM: Sometimes referred to as the emotional regulation system, this middle region of the brain plays a significant role in regulating emotions, motivation, social behavior as well as internal body states. The limbic system connects lower and higher areas of the brain.

MODULATION: The ability of the nervous system to filter out or let in various forms of sensory information Modulation involves facilitating some neural messages to maximize a response, and inhibiting other messages to reduce irrelevant activity. This unconscious feedback process is self correcting and continuous through inhibition, facilitation and habituation of sensory input.

MOTOR PLANNING: Also called praxis is the ability to conceive of, organize, and carry out an unfamiliar sequence of coordinated movements.

NEUROLOGICAL THRESHOLD: Refers to the amount of stimuli required for a neuron or neuron system to respond. When the nervous system responds really quickly to a sensory stimulus, we say there is a low threshold and when the nervous system responds more slowly than expected, we say there is a high threshold for responding. All of us need a balance between low and high thresholds so that we notice just enough things to keep aware and attentive, but not so many things that we become overloaded with information and feel distracted.

NYSTAGMUS: A series of automatic, back-and-forth eye movements. Different conditions produce this reflex. Rotary movement followed by an abrupt stop normally produces a nystagmus. The duration and regularity of postrotary nystagmus are some of the indicators of one aspect of vestibular system efficiency.

OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY: A health profession concerned with improving a person's occupational performance. In a pediatric setting the occupational therapist deals with children whose occupations are usually players, preschoolers, or students. The occupational therapist evaluates a child's performance in relation to what is developmentally expected for that age group. If there is a discrepancy between developmental expectations and functional ability, the occupational therapist looks at a variety of perceptual and neuromuscular factors which influence function. Based on a knowledge of neurology, kinesiology, development, medical diagnoses, and current research, the occupational therapist can identify the children who have the best potential for remediation through occupational therapy.

PERCEPTION: The meaning the brain gives to sensory input. Sensations are objective; perception is subjective.

PHYSICAL THERAPY: Physical therapy is a health profession concerned with improving a person's physical ability. In a pediatric setting, the physical therapist evaluates a child's orthopedic structure and neuromuscular functions. A physical therapist can also receive special training identical to that received by an occupational therapist to assess and remediate the disorders in sensory processing that influence learning and behavior.

PLASTICITY: Sometimes called neuroplasticity, refers to the fact that the brain structure and function can change in important ways in response to experience.

PRAXIS: (See Motor Planning) The ability of the brain to conceive of, organize, and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions.

POSTURAL SECURITY: Feelings of security and self confidence when moving through space based on one's body awareness. Postural insecurity is a rational fear of body movement that is related to poor balance.

POSTURAL STABILITY: Being able to maintain one's body in a position specifically necessary for a task.

PRONE: The horizontal body position with the face and stomach downward.

PROPRIOCEPTION: From the Latin work for "one's own", refers to perception of sensation from the muscles and joints. Proprioceptive input tells the brain when and how muscles are contracting or stretching, and when and how the joints are bending, extending or being pulled or compressed. This information enables the brain to know where each part of the body is and how it is moving.

REACTIVITY: Level of responsiveness to arousing stimulation dependent on individual sensitivity.

RECEPTORS: Nerve cells that are highly specialized to receive and send sensory information from inside as well as outside of the body to the brain where it is analyzed and responses are generated. This is where sensory processing begins.

RECIPROCAL: Referring to alternating movements.

REGULATORY DISORDER: Related to self organization, the individual demonstrates difficulties adjusting to sensory input observed in one or more behavioral responses associated with emotional, mental or physical domains.

SENSORY INPUT: The streams of neural impulses flowing from the sensory receptors in the body to the spinal cord and then the brain.

SENSORY INTEGRATION: Sensory integration is the neurological process that organizes sensation from one's own body, and from the environment making it possible to use that body within that environment.

SENSORY INTEGRATION AND PRAXIS TESTS (SIPT): A series of tests designed to assess the status of sensory integration and praxis (motor planning) in children ages 4 through 8 years 11 months old. The SIPT is a revised and updated version of the original SCSIT.

SENSORY PROCESSING: An overarching term that refers to the method the nervous system uses to receive, organize and understand sensory input. It is considered an internal process of the nervous system that enables people to figure out how to respond to environmental demands based on the sensory.

SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER: This is the newest term for, and is used synonymously with, Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Integration Dysfunction. An irregularity or disorder in brain function that makes it difficult to integrate sensory input effectively. Sensory integrative dysfunction may be present in motor, learning, social/emotional, speech/language or attention disorders.

SENSORY THRESHOLD: Influences registration of sensory input across modalities. It is the point at which the summed sensory input activates the nervous system. Most recently referred to as the neurological threshold.

SOMATOSENSORY: Body sensations that are based on both tactile and proprioceptive information.

SPECIALIZATION: In general, the process by which one part of the brain becomes more efficient at particular functions. Most specialized functions are lateralized, that is, one side of the brain is more proficient in the function than the other side.

SUPINE: The horizontal body position with the face and stomach upward.

TACTILE: Pertaining to sense of touch via receptors in the skin.

TACTILE DEFENSIVENESS: Increased sensitivity to touch sensations that can easily overwhelm an individual producing a fearful or protective response to ordinary daily experiences and activities.

VESTIBULAR SYSTEM: The sensory system that responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and accelerated or decelerated movement; it integrates neck, eye, and body adjustments to movement.

VISUAL-SPATIAL ORGANIZATION: the ability to perceive and interpret what the eyes see. Need to be able to take in information through the sense organ (eyes) and interpret it (occipital lobe) and organize it for use (frontal lobe, sensorimotor areas, etc). Includes depth perception, directionality, form constancy, position in space, spatial awareness (distance between you and objects), visual discrimination, visual figure-ground (between objects). Also includes vertical/horizontal/diagonal perception and plane integration.