Sensory Integration Therapy Vs Occupational Therapy

  • Agnes ChanBSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Manchester

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Have you ever heard of sensory integration therapy or occupational therapy? If you have, do you know their differences? Don’t worry if you don’t, this article has got you covered. 

Sensory integration therapy focuses on improving people’s lives by helping them integrate and process sensory inputs from the 5 senses more efficiently. This is so that they can have a better understanding of their environment. 

Occupational therapy focuses on improving people’s lives by helping adapt to their physical difficulties and overcome mental health problems so that they can complete their daily tasks more easily. 

Are you interested in knowing more about these two therapies? You have come to the right place! Scroll down and read on.

Brief overview of sensory integration therapy (SIT)

Sensory integration therapy (SIT) is a type of therapy that aims to help children with their sensory-processing problems. These sensory-processing problems hinder children’s ability to integrate and process sensory input, which can lead to numerous problems that contribute to increased anxiety as they grow up. 

Sensory integration refers to the process in which information from the environment is processed in the brain through the 5 senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. This process allows us to respond to the environment accordingly. This may be surprising but your sense of balance is also a part of the integration. This is because our sense of balance  helps us navigate our surroundings in terms of positioning our body and head, being aware of our body and knowing how to move our joints and muscles appropriately.1 

Brief overview of occupational therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy (OT) helps people overcome challenges that negatively affect their normal daily activities. These activities can be learning at school, going to work, playing sports or simply doing the dishes.2 

OT focuses on occupational health. In this scenario, an occupation is not a job or profession. It is any activity we do to take care of our physical and mental health. Examples of an occupation are self-care, productivity and leisure activites. Self-care includes activities like upkeeping personal hygiene, eating well or having enough quality sleep. Activities related to productivity include work, study, caring or domestic activities. Leisure activities are playing sports, hobbies or socialising. Therefore, OT’s role is to improve our ability on doing these activities and hence looking after our physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Importance of addressing sensory and motor challenges in individuals

Addressing sensory and motor challenges in individuals is very important due to the significant impact these challenges can have on various aspects of a person's life. 

Here are key reasons emphasising the importance of addressing sensory and motor challenges:

  • Enhanced quality of life
    • Improved sensory and motor abilities contribute to an individual's overall wellbeing.
    • Increased independence in daily activities leads to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
  • Developmental milestones
    • Adequate sensory and motor development is crucial during early childhood for reaching developmental milestones.
    • These milestones lay the foundation for future cognitive, emotional, and social growth.
  • Academic success
    • Sensory and motor skills are integral to academic achievement.
    • Adequate motor skills are essential for tasks such as writing, drawing, and participating in physical education activities.
    • Adequate sensory skills for their environment are important in developing problem-solving skills which can lead to improved cognitive and critical thinking skills. 
  • Social engagement
    • Sensory challenges can affect social interactions and relationships.
    • Addressing these challenges promotes better communication, cooperation, and social engagement.
  • Emotional regulation
    • Proper sensory processing contributes to emotional wellbeing and self-regulation.
    • Individuals with well-developed sensory and motor skills often experience fewer behavioural and emotional difficulties.
  • Occupational performance
    • Motor skills are directly linked to an individual's ability to perform various occupations or activities of daily living.
    • Occupational success often relies on effective sensory and motor functioning.
  • Prevention of secondary issues
    • Untreated sensory and motor challenges can lead to secondary issues such as anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.
    • Early intervention helps prevent the worsening of these challenges and their associated problems.
  • Holistic development
    • Addressing sensory and motor challenges supports holistic development, recognizing the interconnectedness of physical, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing.
    • Holistic development contributes to a more resilient and adaptable individual.
  • Increased participation in activities
    • Improved sensory and motor skills enhance an individual's ability to participate in a wide range of activities.
    • Participation in meaningful activities promotes a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which is important to an individual's self-esteem.
  • Empowerment and independence
    • Addressing challenges empowers individuals to actively engage in their environments.
    • Developing skills fosters a sense of independence and self-efficacy.

Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)

Definition and principles of SIT 

SIT is often provided and led by occupational therapists to help children improve their processing and integration of sensory inputs.3 Occupational therapists design programmes in which the activities included in the programme stimulate sensory responses from the child. These activities can be related to balance and physical movement, like swinging, bouncing or climbing. SIT is designed to play a role in a wider programme that includes communication, behaviour and educational therapies. 

SIT is beneficial for children who have poor integration of their senses. For example, with poor integration of touch and proprioception, the weight of an object can be misidentified and hence the pressure needed to hold or use the object is also misidentified. Therefore, children cannot complete the tasks they desire to complete, like handwriting, doing up buttons and zips. They may even be unable to do physical activities like jumping and skipping. As you can see, this can be very debilitating for an individual to experience, especially a child, which is why it’s so important to set about bettering these issues early on. 

By completing tasks that require a high level of sensory involvement, an interconnection will be developed between the senses, body and mind automatically. This would eventually lead to sensory integration and therefore children will learn how to give appropriate responses to the sensory inputs. 

There are several benefits of SIT, such as reducing stress, improving concentration and facilitating social interactions. SIT can be taken place in the home, community, schools and clinics.

Problems that may need SIT4

Sensory seeking behaviour

  • Swinging/spinning 
  • Jumping/throwing themselves around
  • Intentionally hitting themselves against objects
  • Screaming/ shouting/ making a lot of noise

Sensory avoidance

  • Looking for quiet corners
  • Reluctant to be involved in loud activities
  • Overwhelmed by noisy/ bright/ smelly environments
  • Only have a few friends

Other problems

  • Poor balance
  • Motor difficulties
  • Show abnormal responses to playground activities in comparison with other children

Conditions that can be benefitted from SIT

  • Acquired brain injury
  • Autism5,6
  • Asperger’s
  • Attention deficit disorders
  • Dyspraxia
  • Developmental coordination disorder
  • Learning difficulties
  • Regulatory and mood disorders
  • Sensory processing disorder

Occupational Therapy (OT) 

Definition and scope of OT 

Occupational therapy is suitable for people of all ages in any environment, such as home, school and workplace. OT aims at developing, recovering, or maintaining the daily living and working skills of people with physical, mental, or cognitive impairments. Occupational therapists utilise various equipment like wheelchairs for people with disabilities to help with their mobility, eating, dressing or other activity. 

They also help design people’s homes and workplaces so that those spaces can accommodate their needs and facilitate their daily activities. Occupational therapists can also help people improve motor functioning and cognitive functioning in order to assist  their daily activities. 

Who can benefit from OT

Different types of programmes are designed for different people with their specific needs.7 For example, 

  • Children
  • People involved in personal injury compensation claims
  • People in need of help with the management of their lives
  • People in the workplace
  • The elderly
  • People struggling with mental health problems 
  • People having learning difficulties

Key differences 

Focus of intervention 

SIT and OT focus on different aspects. SIT focuses on helping children integrate their senses so that they can learn to give appropriate responses to stimuli in the environment and make sense of their surroundings. On the other hand, OT focuses on overall wellbeing, including physical and spiritual wellbeing by improving their ability to complete daily activities. 

Methods and techniques

In terms of methods and techniques, SIT involves sensorimotor activities and therapeutic exercises while OT involves task-oriented activities and adaptive strategies. 

For example, SIT improves children’s sensory integration skills through activities like swinging and climbing. These activities require children to integrate what they see, what they hear, what they touch and what they feel on their skin in order to get a better understanding of the world around them. 

On the other hand, OT involves activities like injury recovery and rehabilitation through motor functioning training so that people can adapt to the influence that the injury has brought to their lives.8

Target Population 

SIT and OT target different populations. Although both of them can be helpful to a lot of people, SIT targets individuals with sensory processing disorders, like children with autism, and OT targets diverse populations including those with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. 


Although SIT and OT have different aims and methods, their ultimate goal is to improve an individuals’ overall health. The programmes they use are personalised and designed by occupational therapists to address individual needs and help overcome their challenges. Both therapies aim at improving an individuals’ daily life functioning so that they can live in a more stress-free way. 


In a nutshell, SIT and OT have the same goal of improving people’s overall health and wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. However, they have very different focuses as SIT focuses on helping people integrate sensory inputs while OT focuses on helping people live with their problems and struggles. 


  1. Sensory integration therapy. [Internet]. [updated 7 October 2019; cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 
  2. Royal College of Occupational Therapists. What is occupational therapy? [Internet]. Royal College of Occupational Therapists [cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 
  3. Raising Children Network. Sensory integration therapy. [Internet]. [updated 24 May 2022; cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 
  4. OT for Kids. Sensory integration therapy. [Internet]. OT for Kids. [cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 
  5. Randell E, McNamara R, Delport S, Busse M, Hastings RP, Gillespie D, et al. Sensory integration therapy versus usual care for sensory processing difficulties in autism spectrum disorder in children: study protocol for a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Trials. 2019 11 February. [cited 4 March 2024]; 20:113. Available from: 
  6. Schoen SA, Lane SJ, Mailloux Z, May‐Benson T, Parham LD, Smith Roley S, et al. A systematic review of ayres sensory integration intervention for children with autism. Autism Res. January 2019 [cited 1 March 2024]; 12(1):6–19. Available from: 
  7. NHS. Occupational therapy. [Internet]. [updated 18 October 2023; cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 
  8. Royal College of Occupational Therapists. What is occupational therapy? [Internet]. Royal College of Occupational Therapists [cited 4 March 2024]. Available from: 

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Ka Yin Chan

BSc Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Manchester

She is a Neuroscience student with strong interest in clinical research and medical communications. She believes that the ever-growing field of scientific research is crucial for understanding health and hence improve it.

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