February 16, 2021
Sensory processing refers to how we take in sensory information from our body and environment, organize and make sense of this information, and respond. The sensory systems include touch (tactile), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), vision, and hearing
(auditory), in addition to vestibular and proprioception. Vestibular receptors are located in our ears and take in information about how we move through space; think of it like an internal GPS— are we moving fast, slow, forward, backward, upside down?
Proprioception receptors are in our muscles and joints, taking in information as we move parts of our body.
Everyone has sensory preferences and non-preferences, even adults! Do you like to explore various textures with your hands or often avoid getting messy? Do you love the thrill of roller coaster rides or are they just too much? Did you know sensory processing
and preferences can also change throughout the day—sensory input is cumulative. Do you ever find yourself listening to music on your way to work? After work, when you get back in your car, do you feel like the music is way too loud even though it’s the same
volume that you previously enjoyed?
While many adults have learned ways to navigate their daily life with their sensory preferences, children’s systems are still developing. The overall key is function. While it’s typical to have sensory preferences and non-preferences, if these start to affect a child’s ability to function and participate in one or more contexts (home, school,
community), it’s time to seek help. This may be seen as difficulty staying in one’s school chair, strong avoidance of certain clothing, difficulty using public restrooms, being in constant motion, limiting foods in one’s diet, or difficulty with changes to his/her daily routine. Sometimes it may look like frequent meltdowns with difficulty as parents understanding the source. Occupational therapy can help address these concerns through identifying and discerning responses to each sensory system, expanding a child’s comfort level with his/her more challenging sensory information, and/or incorporating appropriate sensory input throughout their day. Your occupational therapist will provide an individualized plan to address sensory processing challenges and help your child better function across a variety of activities and environments in your daily life.