What is Sensory Processing?

“Our Senses are the gateway to our world”

Sensory processing describes the way the body receives and interprets incoming stimuli through our senses. Our sensory systems play an important role in our ability to engage in the world around us. Each sensory system has its own unique role and together they inform our brain how to react and interact with our environment. This process helps us to maintain a sense of position, level of alertness in different surroundings and our ability to move.

 

Some children, young people and adults find the information that they receive through their senses challenging. Things like hearing, touch, vision, taste and smell are our commonly known senses. In addition to these, there are three other less known senses that also play a big part in and how we and our bodies engage and respond to the world around us. These are Proprioception, a sense of body awareness; Vestibular, which involves movement, balance and coordination; and Interoception which helps us understand and feel what’s happening inside our body.

When does sensory processing become a challenge?

We all have different sensory preferences and there is a high degree of normal variance within the general population. Most of us are born with the ability to manage sensory information, organise it and respond suitably. We only require support and intervention if our sensory processing is stopping us from doing what we want and need to do in our daily lives. It may be that a child strongly prefers some fabric textures but cannot tolerate others; this would only be a problem if they are unable to tolerate for example, their school uniform. Some people love rollercoasters and loud music whilst other people cannot read or concentrate unless in complete silence; others like to study when listening to music or in a busy environment, confirming that we are all different.

The effects of emotions

Our sensory processing is strongly linked to our emotional state, regulation and stress. When we are worried, anxious or upset, our tolerance to certain sensory stimuli such as noise or movement may be reduced. When we are calm and relaxed, we are more tolerant of noises, smells and other incoming sensory information. We all have different sensory systems and perceive the incoming sensory information from our surroundings in different ways. Most people react automatically to incoming stimuli, by adjusting their behaviour and actions to respond appropriately. However if sensory processing difficulties are present, this automaticity may be a little more difficult.

 

When sensory processing difficulties are present, the neurological process is not well organised and this is when behaviors become disorganised or disordered. The brain then has difficulty paying attention and learning, which can affect how we use our bodies in an effective and efficient way to perform everyday activities.

Explore the sensory systems

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