Knowledge and Skills Framework: Sensory
Understanding the emergence of multisensory processing and its role in human development and occupations is vital for early intervention providers to protect and support the developing sensory systems in high-risk babies.
This page summarises the knowledge base on human sensory systems and the development of the central nervous system (CNS), regulation and occupations, with particular emphasis on the impact of
- CNS damage
- the sensory environment
Early intervention providers can use this framework to ensure they have the necessary knowledge and skills to use sensation to support
- brain development
- parent-infant relationships
- motor skills
- reducing stress
1. Early intervention providers should understand the developing sensory systems, multisensory processing and its vulnerability including
- the emergence of the anatomy and functioning of the sensory systems during gestation and early life
- the role of sensory processing in regulation, attention, social, motor, and exploration development
- the role of sensation in creating and alleviating stress in infant development
- the importance of parents and neonatal staff learning to accurately observe, interpret, and respond to the infant’s behavioural and autonomic cues in response to sensory experiences
- the important influence of the neonatal sensory environment on infant development
- the importance of parents and neonatal staff in supporting appropriate sensory experiences for the developing infant
2. Early intervention providers should recognise the potential opportunities to support sensory development including
- the parents as the interpreter of the sensory needs of their infant
- the parents as a sensory environment to support the infant’s development
- the environment as a source of sensory support
- the sensory qualities of PADL’s in the neonatal unit
- the use of sensory based activities to promote confidence, attunement and co-regulation with the parent
- the impact of changed early sensory experiences on future child and family development
3. Early intervention providers should understand adult learning styles to recognise
- individual differences in learning
- the relationship between emotional state and learning capacities
- changes in parental focus during hospitalisation, and early intervention provision (Vergara, 2006)
Early intervention providers working with families of high-risk infants should be able to
- use appropriate clinical tools/approaches to support family members to observe and interpret their infant’s response to sensory experiences. Examples include the Newborn Individualised Developmental Care Assessment Programme (NIDCAP), Neonatal Behavioural Assessment Scale (NBAS), Sensory Rating Scale, Infant/toddler sensory profile and th test of sensory function in infants.
- illuminate the infant’s responses to sensory experiences, autonomic stability, motor activity, behavioural states and responsiveness
- promote the understanding and use of sensation to promote co-regulation and access to PADLS
- identify appropriate caregiving strategies that continue to support the developing sensory systems
- provide appropriate education to parents (both informational and experiential) that supports their development of sensory-based activities to promote their infant’s development.
- support parents to modify the infant’s environment as necessary to provide appropriate sensory support to the infant.
- provide sensory education to the multidisciplinary team so that the whole team can support the family to provide appropriate sensory, individualised care to their child.
Vergara, E. (2006). Specialized Knowledge and Skills for Occupational Therapy Practice in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 60(6), pp.659-668.