According to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder, sensory integration difficulty (SID) is a medical condition whereby the brain has challenges processing information that comes from one or more of the five senses. Think touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. Individuals with this disorder may be hypersensitive to environmental stimuli. Per the institute, roughly 75% of individuals on the autistic spectrum suffer from SID.
What is Sensory Integration?
For the average population, sensory integration comes naturally and the sensory information we receive from our body and surroundings is effortlessly processed by our brains. We therefore organize, integrate, and respond to information received in a suitable manner. Children with SID, however, may act out as a result of overstimulation. The condition impacts learning and many other facets of life.
How SID Affects Learning
In a study conducted by The Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, researchers found that children who are diagnosed with this disorder struggle in conventional education settings. They often exhibit an inability to focus or a short attention span.
Art for SID
The Journal of the American Art Therapy Association studied a five-year-old boy named Michael who exhibited the symptoms of sensory integration disorder. In the study, a variety of art experiments were conducted to determine if this intervention could be used as a possible solution for students diagnosed with sensory integration disorder.
At the beginning of the study, Michael struggled with socialization problems and threw frequent tantrums, including screaming, hiding, and outright refusal to participate in classroom activities.
To test the hypothesis that art was a viable solution, the researchers analyzed Michael during the course of ten weeks. Art sessions were given to Michael before the school bell rang and his teacher was instructed to record his behavior each school day in 30-minute intervals. To promote neutral remarks, his teacher wasn’t informed about the days Michael missed or participated in art sessions.
The Sensory Diet
To determine the best art program for SID, the researchers alternated three kinesthetic and visual stimulation activities. At the start of the school day, Michael was put on the following sensory diet to promote tactile experiences. The sessions lasted 20 minutes each time and included a:
- Clay-Work Day
- Easel-Painting Day
- Finger-Painting Day
Analyzing the Findings
On the days when art was offered before the school day began, Michael’s teacher noted more positive behavior. Any negative conducts reported were more prominent later on in the day.
Of the three interventions conducted, easel painting proved to be the most beneficial for negating and postponing problematic behaviors.
The Benefits of Art for Sensory Integration Disorder
Art programs are widely recognized for improving the attention and general behavior of children who have pervasive developmental disorder as well as sensory integration disorder. In fact, imagery exercises are equated to having the same effect as stimulant medications, even encouraging creative thinking.
Art interventions for sensory integration disorder ultimately enable:
- Opportunities for Relaxation and Centering
- Improved Focus
- Reduced Impulsivity
- Better Academic Performance
Taking a Proactive vs. a Wait-and-See Approach
As more teachers in public schools are seeing increasing incidences of SID across the board, possible solutions are being explored. Researchers find that children don’t simply grow out of sensory integration issues. As a result, if no action is taken, the symptoms live well into adulthood.
Art Intervention for Morning Check-Ins
Based on the findings of the study, The Journal of the American Art Therapy Association proposes integrating multisensory art programs to improve academic performance in children with SID. The researchers agree that studying one subject alone isn’t enough evidence to implement art sessions into SID students’ routines. Nevertheless, there are several findings by other groups that have shed light on the benefits of art for this condition.
When students are centered from the get-go, they stand a better chance of tackling the day ahead. Even for the average adult with no SID issues at all, feelings of being overwhelmed is now considered the norm. This is why adult coloring books are increasing in popularity. Imagine the effects the same application can have on growing minds.