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Sensory Integration and Processing 101

Sensory Integration and Processing 101
Virginia Spielmann, MSOT
October 6, 2021

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is a transcript of the webinar, Sensory Integration and Processing 101, presented by Virginia Spielmann, MSOT.Learning OutcomesAfter this course, participants will be able to identify the main functions of each of the 7 discussed sensory systems and how they interact with interoception.After this course, participants will be able to list the different subtypes of the Miller SPD Nosology.After this course, participants will be able to recognize the functional impacts of differences in sensory integration and processing on individuals.IntroductionThank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be sharing this with you today. As Fawn mentioned, I'm the executive director of STAR Institute for Sensory Integration and Processing, which is a nonprofit. We are based in Centennial in Colorado, but we work at a state, at the levels of the state, the nation, and globally. And of course, we're, we were founded by Dr. Lucy Jane Miller and the organization is built on 40 years of her research. Dr. Miller retired right before the pandemic, which was really good timing. Everything at STAR has been built and put together by a village and it's very collaborative. And so we have this faculty team that we like to recognize in our presentations, and, as we share the work. These are my disclosures. What you'll be learning today as a result of this course, I hope you'll be able to really talk about the seven sensory systems that Dr. Gina has identified as well as how they interact with interoception. List the different subtypes of the SPD nosology that Dr. Miller led the development of in 2007, and recognize the functional impacts of differences in sensory integration and processing on individuals. So, I will use the phrase, sensory integration and processing, because that is what the American Occupational Therapy Association prefers. And I'm also gonna talk a little bit about neurodiversity. Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain regarding how we process and experience the world. And these variations impact sociability, learning, attention, mood, and so on. It was coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist in 1998. And we're all neurodiverse. Everyone in this webinar today, we make up a neurodiverse group. Neurodivergence is typically applied to, refer to populations who have neuro-developmental differences like autism, but also sensory processing disorder, giftedness, ADHD, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, and so on, have all been included under this umbrella. There are differences in the way neuro-divergent individuals express things like soft skills, and they have been generally pathologized. And so, these differences, these social differences are what has been really focused on. But of course, there are also differences in sensory integration and processing. And what's really interesting now, is that that's moving to the center of the conversation rather than the periphery. So it's a really timely moment to be brushing up on this knowledge, as an allied health professional, we all need to be able to contribute at the table before our colleagues and other disciplines start thinking that they invented, embodied work and sensory integration and so on. And so, what we're talking about with neurodivergency is really the idea that it's the population outside the bell curve. 68% of the population are inside the bell curve and are considered more often than not able-bodied. And you might have heard the phrase neuro-typical, I don't like using words like typical and normal. I think normal is a setting on a washing machine and doesn't really apply to humans. But the neuro-majority tend to have enough similarities in brain structures and neurochemistry that they use similar cognitive strategies, learning styles, emotional and regulatory strategies, and capacities. They have similar perceptual experiences of the world. The neurodivergent population, so that would be those of us who fall outside this part of the curve, that other 32% perhaps, our brain structures are, and chemical compositions are different enough that our experience of the world is different resulting in cognitive differences and strategies. And so that's what we mean with these phrases. So when we talk about sensory integration and processing, we are talking about the mechanisms of how we feel. It is how we feel, what's going on externally, and what's going on as we interact in social spaces as well as with objects, and it's all those sensations that we feel internally. Those pieces come together, that is sensory integration and processing. So every day, all the time, we are processing and integrating sensation. So, we do still get some people saying, I don't believe in sensory integration, which is interesting because if you have enough of a system and you can feel things, then sensory integration is taking place. Do you believe in the respiratory system? Do you believe in the cardiac system? You should probably believe in sensory integration in that case. And sensory integration is so fundamental to human development all the way through the lifespan, which we will touch on a little bit, but especially in early infancy and as we construct our sense of self. And it's a way, something that you can describe in a linear way, but please remember it's not linear, it's really all happening almost at the same time. So with these internal and external stimuli occur, we get the data that is modulated at that nervous system level and then it's filtered in these downstream processes where it's going actually upstairs into higher levels of the brain, filtered, organized, and defined. And we start discriminating, discerning, prioritizing the data that we're getting and giving it meaning. We are meaning making all the time through the sensations that we feel. And still part of the process of sensory integration and processing, is the production of an adaptive response to all of that data. And so the plans, the actions, the outcomes, or the behaviors, that sensory motor piece is still a part of what we call sensory integration and processing. And that's important to remember because most of...

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virginia spielmann

Virginia Spielmann, MSOT

Virginia is a well-traveled speaker, coach, and educator on topics including sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, child development, and infant mental health. She has conducted training in Kenya, Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and the USA and leads workshops at international conferences.

Virginia is a founder and former Clinical Director of SPOT (Speech, Physical, and Occupational Therapy) Interdisciplinary Children's Therapy Center in Hong Kong, where she led a large and widely respected inter-disciplinary team.

Virginia obtained her BSc in Occupational Therapy in Oxford England (2002) and her Masters in Occupational Therapy from Mount Mary University, Milwaukee (2018). She is a DIR/Floortime Training Leader and Expert and clinical consultant for the Interdisciplinary Council for Development and Learning (ICDL). Her extensive pediatric experience includes children on the autism spectrum, as well as those with Sensory Processing Disorder, infant mental health issues, adoption, developmental trauma.

Virginia has considerable post-graduate training, she is certified on the SIPT and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Infant and Early Childhood Development with an emphasis on mental health, with Fielding Graduate University, in Santa Barbara. She is a published author and contributed to the STAR Frame of Reference as part of the 4th Edition of Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy, alongside Dr. Miller and Dr. Schoen.



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