Sensory Processing – Its all about our senses and how they work

Sensory processing can be described as the way the brain receives, interprets, organises and responds to sensory input.Child jumping freely When refereeing to the senses, many people would likely think of 5 senses; touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. However, there are 2 more senses which are less commonly known. These are proprioception; the sense of where your body parts are in relation to each other and their movement, and our vestibular sense; which contributes to our balance and co-ordination.

Everybody’s sensory system will be slightly different and this is part of what make us all unique. However, sensory processing difficulties can occur when the brain interprets and organises sensory information very differently than expected and responds in a way that limits participation in everyday activities.

The 3 types of Sensory Processing

Sensory processing can be divided into 3 categories; sensory modulation, sensory discrimination and sensory-based motor difficulties.

Sensory modulation: Converting sensory information into behaviour as a response to this input. Some children can either be over-responsive, under-responsive or sensory seeking. For example, a child who is over-responsive to touch may dislike being held or be very particular about clothing material. A child who is under-responsive to touch may need more input then would be expected to respond such as not noticing having messy hands or bumping into people or objects. Children who are sensory craving may constantly be on the move, trying to obtain as much sensory input as possible.

Sensory discrimination: The ability to distinguish between different sensory input and interpreting the messages being received. Difficulties could present in one or more of the sensory systems.  For example, a child who has difficulty with touch discrimination may have difficulty finding a specific object in a draw by touch alone but need to use their sense of vision to aid them. Children with difficulties in auditory discrimination may have difficulty listening and understanding someone talking to them if there is background noise.

Sensory-based motor difficulties: The ability to create appropriate motor responses based on sensory input. For example, children experiencing sensory-based motor difficulties may have trouble performing sequenced movements, learning new movements or determining how much force to use for a task. Sensory-based motor difficulties can often be related to our vestibular and proprioceptive senses.

What happens when we have Sensory Processing Difficulties?

Sensory processing difficulties can make everyday tasks like getting dressed, making friends, travelling from one place to another, exploring new environments or being able to learn in a classroom a challenge. Sensory processing difficulties in children can sometimes also be mistaken for behavioural concerns, when alternatively, the child may be having trouble to interpret and respond to the world around them in a functional way.

Knowledge and recognition of sensory processing difficulties is rapidly growing, shedding light on why someone might respond so differently to the person next to them to the same sensory input. Occupational Therapy can assist children with sensory processing difficulties to feel less overwhelmed by their environment, be able to adapt to their environment, be able to manage changes, use their individual traits to their advantage and be able to participate to the best of their ability in their everyday, social, play and learning activities.

Call us at Adelaide Night and Day Occupational Therapy if you have or think you might have a Sensory Processing difficulty and we will work with you to try to find a way to through it.

Call us on 8351 6664