Sensory processing is the way our brain receives, organises and responds to sensory input from the
environment. Our brains receive sensory information from the environment around
us and process it in a way that makes it meaningful and helps us to respond
appropriately. For example, when we hear a loud unexpected noise (car
backfire), our heart skips a beat, but we know what the noise is and our
brains can send the message to our bodies that we are not in danger.
Sensory processing disorder in children occurs when the
brain can’t efficiently process the sensory information coming from the body or
the environment. This can cause the child to experience difficulties responding
to everyday sensations that some of us hardly notice.
Sensory processing disorder in children can affect the way they respond to sensory input. For example, when a child with sensory processing difficulties hears that loud car backfire, their brains have trouble sending the message to their bodies that they are not in danger. This can result in an uncontrollable state of panic for the child, where they are in a “fight or flight” situation and their sensory processing disorder results in a “flight” reaction because self-regulation is poor.
The 7 Senses are:
1. Tactile System– sense of touch, pain, temperature
2. Visual System— sense of sight
3. Auditory System—sense of hearing
4. Gustatory System—sense of taste
5. Olfactory System—sense of smell
6. Vestibular System– sense of balance
7. Proprioception System– sense of body position and movement
Proprioception relates to the sensations we receive from the muscles, joints and tendons in our bodies. The proprioceptive system gives us information about body position and movement.
The vestibular system sends us information about the position of our bodies in space, by taking in information from our eyes, neck and bodies about balance and movement. The information is then sent to the central nervous system for processing and helps to generate muscle tone that allows us to move efficiently.
1 in 20 children have difficulties processing sensory information. Sensory processing disorder is higher in people diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Up to 75% of children with ASD have significant deficits in sensory processing.
Children with sensory processing disorder can often be under or overstimulated by various sensations. This means that if they are over-sensitive they have a low threshold, and if they are under-sensitive, they have a higher threshold for sensory input.
They can appear to be seeking out sensations that they are attracted to, and avoiding sensations that overstimulate them and appear threatening, painful or scary. They might seek movement, so they are always on the go, very fidgety, and can’t sit still for very long, as well as jumping and crashing. If they are over-responsive to a sensation, such as noise, the loud sound of the vacuum cleaner could upset them and cause them to run away, cry, scream and shut down. Sometimes it can be the slow soft buzzing of the fridge that is upsetting them, without you even realising the noise is there.
We use our sensory processing skills to help with social interactions, fine and gross motor skill development, and focusing and paying attention to facilitate learning.
Sensory processing disorder in children is becoming increasingly recognised among health professionals, parents and carers, and within schools. Often, sensory processing disorder in children is misinterpreted and regarded as learning difficulties, being silly, fidgety, uncoordinated, lazy, or slow, or as hyperactive behaviours.
Identifying sensory processing disorder in children is essential in helping these kids accomplish their potential.
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