Integration – function, task & diseases


The integration is a sub-step of perception processing and gives people a meaningful picture of their environment. Sensory integration includes different sensory systems and different sensory qualities. In integration disorders, the integration is disturbed due to lack of neuron linkage.

Table of Contents

What is the integration?

With his senses, man perceives the world. An external stimulus meets special sensory cells, which pass on the information about the spinal cord to the brain. What man recognizes and perceives from all the stimuli of the environment, does not decide in the sensory processes, but only with the recognition processes in the brain.

The recognition of a stimulus is one of the last elements in the perception chain. There are many perceptive steps on the path between sensation and recognition. One of these is sensory integration. By this medical term is meant the interplay of different sensory systems and sensory qualities. Only through this coordinated integration is man capable of recognizing and interpreting percepts as a situation. For example, the sensory integration of vestibular stimuli and stimuli of depth sensitivity provides information about one’s own position in space and influences the equilibrium.

The field of proprioception is particularly dependent on sensory integration, but the integrative partial step of perception applies to a varying degree to all sensory systems. The goal of every sensory integration is the appropriate engagement with the environment, which is made possible by the orderly processing paths of the individual sensory systems. Without sensory integration, humans are not able to take targeted or planned actions for environmental stimuli. The integration of individual sensory perceptions first creates the picture of a situation and thus the possibility of a situational reaction.

function & task

Exteroception constantly informs people about the conditions of their environment. Only through sensory integration does the brain establish relationships between the stimuli and, for example, relate exteroceptive information to interoceptive information. An example of this is the perception of gravity, which is integrated with the movements of one’s own body and thus brought into relation to the ground.

Thus, the human being can adequately respond to his environment and the stimuli from his body. The stimuli flow to the brain as sensations in a well-organized way, so that the individual can form overall sensations from the individual sensations. He can tune his behaviors to these overall perceptions.

Only people with orderly perception can move appropriately in the environment, successfully process all stimuli or adequately coordinate the power and extent of their movements. For example, the ability to integrate influences body awareness.

Integration requires and requires at the same time an appropriate ability to concentrate and the ability to act. Thanks to the integration, a gravitational stimulus on the vestibular system of the inner ear results, for example, in providing proprioceptive muscle activities. In a similar way, integrative stimuli stimulate different receptors in the semicircular canals of the human ear thanks to integration, leading to a postural adaptation that prevents people from falling.

Sensory integration is also an important process in connection with the sense of sight and the sense of touch. When writing, the sense of sight controls the hand thanks to integration, for example, by integrating its perceptions with the tactile contact stimuli of the skin receptors and the proprioceptively deep-sensitive stimuli of the joint, muscle and tendon receptors.

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Diseases & complaints

Patients with sensory integration disorders sometimes act as if they had an attention deficit disorder. The reason for their restlessness is, unlike an attention deficit disorder, no general attention deficit. Instead, the restlessness is due to the hypotonia of the mucus, which completely absorbs the attention and concentration of those affected.

Other disorders of integration are manifested in tactile or proprioceptive hypersensitivities that may result in lack of exercise planning and often manifest as awkwardness.

Also possible are tactile and vestibular hypersensitivities, which are usually the result of inadequate stimulation modulation by the central nervous system. Those affected often show a tactile defense against touch.

All sensory integration disorders are cerebral physiological dysfunctions, which are caused by the lack of connection of neurons or brain structures. Partly, they exist from birth, partly the integration develops only insufficiently due to insufficient physical movements – especially in childhood. That’s why physical games are so important.

Sometimes neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis or strokes disturb the sensory-integrative function in the perception chain. However, such problems of integration due to morphological changes in the brain are not called sensory integration disorders.

Existing disturbances of integration can be alleviated by sensory integration therapy, although not completely eliminated. For misintegration after morphological brain changes in the context of neurological diseases, a far worse prognosis applies. Often the disturbed integration after the destruction of brain tissue and nerve tissue is irreversible.

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Christina Cherry
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