SI Overview

Overview & Terminology:

Sensory integration theory was first developed by A. Jean Ayres, PhD. Ayres described sensory integration as information processing; a neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and from the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment. Inputs from different sensory modalities are interpreted, associated, and unified. The brain integrates this sensory information; the brain selects, enhances, inhibits, compares, and associates the sensory information in flexible, constantly changing patterns. Occupational therapists use sensory integration as a frame of reference, a treatment modality, an approach to treatment and a theory to explain behavior.


The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)  published a very exciting Special Issue of AJOT (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, March/April 2007, Volume 61/Number 2) devoted entirely to Conceptualizing and Identifying Sensory Processing Issues and Sensory Integration Treatment! If you are a member of AOTA you can access the entire journal including full text articles online at


Tip: In addition to the new terminology discussed below, this issue of AJOT also has articles on many other topics related to sensory integration including gravitational insecurity, assessing ideational praxis, use of the Sensory Profile, the effectiveness of occupational therapy on children with sensory modulation disorder, validating the diagnosis of sensory processing disorder (SPD), SPD and play, SPD in autism, the effect of sound-based intervention, and research on SI intervention. 


The ‘From the Guest Editor Column’ was written by Lucy Jane Miller, Marie E. Anzalone, Shelly J. Lane, Sharon A. Cermak, and Elizabeth T. Osten, all known and respected leaders in the field of sensory integration. They describe a proposed diagnostic taxonomy (system of classification) for diagnostic categories of sensory integration to help clarify and unify the language that occupational therapists and others use and to allow for consistency in defined terms related to research. The proposed taxonomy changes the terminology used in how individuals with sensory processing challenges are categorized diagnostically.


What has not changed?

Sensory Integration Theory: The constructs that describe sensory processing and impact on behavior/responses

Sensory Integration Assessment: The process of evaluating individuals for sensory processing

Sensory Integration Treatment: Termed OT-SI, occupational therapy with a sensory integration approach


What has changed?

Use of the term sensory processing rather than sensory integration for diagnostic descriptions; other disciplines use the term sensory integration differently to describe sensory integration on a cellular level – very different from the meaning that OTs attach to this term.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is proposed the overarching diagnostic category with three categories of SPD being Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD), Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (SBMD) and Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD). Each of these categories has subtypes.


For more information on this topic, read the Position Statement on Terminology Related to Sensory Integration Dysfunction at the SPD Foundation website. 

This paper was written by leaders in the field of occupational therapy and sensory integration including:

Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D., OTR, Executive Director KID Foundation and Associate Professor University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Sharon Cermak, Ed.D., OTR/L, Professor at Boston University
Shelly Lane, Ph.D., OTR/L, Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
Marie Anzalone, Sc.D., OTR, Assistant Professor at Columbia University
Jane Koomar, Ph.D., OTR/L, Director of OTA-Watertown and President of the Spiral        


Did you know?

SPD sensory processing disorder has recently been included in 3 diagnostic references:

Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health And Development Disorders Of Infancy and Early Childhood, Revised: DC:0-3R by ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, 2005

Diagnostic Manual for Infancy and Early Childhood (ICDL-CMIC) by Stanley I. Greenspan, ICDLL: The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders, 2005.  

Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual, PDM Task Force, 2006. 

Lucy Jane Miller is working hard to get SPD into the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statisitical Manual (DSM) – check out her website for more info and to follow her exciting research in this area…

The SPD Foundation 


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