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Understanding Sensory Processing

"Sensory Processing" is how we take in information from all 8 of our senses, interpret that information, and respond appropriately and effectively. All of us have a variety of sensory "preferences", however when it impacts our ability to participate in daily living skills, it may be an area that needs extra support. 

Adequate sensory integration is foundational to our ability to participate in more complex, higher-level tasks. 

Sight/Vision

Our ability to identify and interpret what we are seeing with our eyes

  • Some difficulties related to the visual system may include:

    • Tolerating visually busy environments

    • Handwriting

    • Completing worksheets

    • Sensitivity to bright lights or the sun 

Auditory/Hearing

Our ability to identify intensity, pitch, and location of sounds.

  • Difficulties with auditory processing may include:

    • Following verbal directions

    • Responding to their name

    • Paying attention to important information while blocking out unimportant stimuli

    • Following and remembering directions in a busy environment 

Tactile/Touch

Tactile processing is HUGE! This system receives and interprets sensations such as pressure, vibration, movement, temperature, and pain through the skin. This system involves both a protective reaction, and a discriminatory reaction.

Children who have difficulties with processing protective information may have difficulties with:

  • Tolerating grooming and hygiene tasks like bathing, teeth brushing, hair combing, hair washing, etc.

  • Tolerating a variety of clothing types (including wearing a mask!)

  • Doesn't like their hands to be dirty 

  • Toe-walking to avoid textured input through the soles of the feet

  • Avoids walking on grass, sand, or playing in water

Children who have difficulties with discriminatory processing of information may have difficulties with:​

  • Fine motor precision

  • Identifying objects without using sight 

Vestibular

Our vestibular system receive input from the fluid in our inner ear to tell our body where our head is positioned and allows for adequate movement throughout space. This system coordinates movements of all body parts, helps with balance, using both sides of of body together, and postural control. 

  • Children with inadequate vestibular processing may have difficulties with:

    • Maintaining and upright posture while seated in a chair, or while playing on swings and slides​

    • Appears afraid of swings, slides, and being off the ground

    • Gets car-sick or motion sick easily

    • Bilateral coordination skills

Gustatory/Taste

Our sense of taste allows us to enjoy food and also protect ourselves from dangerous stimuli.

  • Some difficulties related to the gustatory system may include:

    • Tolerating different textures of food​

    • Limited diet or repertoire of food

    • Tolerating brushing teeth

Olfactory/Smell

Our sense of smell allows us to enjoy pleasant scents like foods, aromas, and candles, while warning us of dangerous scents (fire, smoke, etc.)

  • Difficulty with olfactory processing may include:

    • Over-responsive to smells of food resulting in gagging or limited food intake​

    • Under-responsive to smells impacting safety or enjoyment of food

Proprioception

Proprioceptive input is provided through our muscles and joints to give our brain feedback about body position and movement through space. This is the skill that allows us to navigate obstacles such as going up and down stairs without looking. 

  • Children with inadequate proprioceptive processing may have difficulties with:

    • Coordination​

    • Navigating obstacles/playing on the playground

    • Knowing how much force to use 

    • Over-stuffing when eating

Fun fact! Proprioceptive input is also calming and regulating  to our nervous system. Think of swaddling a baby, weighted blankets, sucking on a pacifier, etc. So if your child seems to constantly seek out intense crashing, jumping, or "heavy" input, they may have another sensory system that's needing regulating. 

Interoception

Interoception is our body's ability to identify and interpret body signals to respond appropriately.

Examples of this include:

  • Knowing when we are hungry or full

  • Knowing when we need to use the bathroom

  • Knowing when our body feels tired, or wiggly and energized

  • Knowing if we are feeling frustrated or angry and tense

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