Executive Function and Sensory Processing (Can ADHD really be helped by SI?)
Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Imagine being so disorganized that you can’t begin to find a way to structure your day to complete what you need to accomplish. What about trying so hard to organize your environment and clean in order to have some “visual peace and calm", only to have things scattered about and no appearance of order an hour or two later… This is a very real experience for those dealing with ADD, ADHD and other executive function disorders.
The sensory systems that provide a structure for organization are the vestibular, proprioceptive, and auditory systems. The systems that provide an ability to focus are primarily the visual, proprioceptive and tactile systems. Each of these systems must be working together for a person to be able to impose order into their environment and day. If I can’t organize myself internally, and have no picture as to what that “looks like”, how am I to organize my home, schoolwork, or office? Concurrently, If I have no idea what distance and time “feel like” perceptually, how can I know when I am supposed to be somewhere, or have an understanding about how much time has passed? We, those blessed with naturally functioning sensory perception, assume that these things are intrinsic to all people. They are not. Those who do not have perceptual sense of where they are in space have no “plumb line” of awareness within their body which they can work and order themselves around.
Those who are experience an inability to naturally discriminate data through their visual, touch, and/or auditory systems are at a disadvantage in understanding space and time. They also experience challenges focusing on what is important in the midst of a busy environment. If touch system is hyper-alert, they cannot focus on one thing (such as what is in front of them) for fear that something nearby may unexpectedly “touch” them and throw their system into a fight/flight/freeze response. Developing foundations in these key areas allows the mind a relaxed starting point from which to assimilate more information, as the body is no longer demanding so much extra energy and focus trying to stay “safe” and “upright”. Foundations also provide us an internal “knowing” of what order is which then makes it easier to develop strategies for organizing things outside of ourselves because the template of order and understanding is easily accessible.
Sensory integration is key to successful life in many areas. It can have profound impact on our ability to access and use our mind’s executive functions. People who have difficulties in these areas can develop better foundations through therapy services to provide improved executive function in life.