Our days are filled with sensory experiences comprised of all the things we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste in addition to physical movement and bodily sensations. Sensory processing refers to how our brain receives, registers, and then organises all of this information to maintain an alert state. Difficulties in processing sensory input may disrupt a child’s focus and completion of daily activities.
Efficient sensory processing is the ability to filter incoming sensory information and focus only on that necessary to perform a task. For example, a child in a busy classroom that displays efficient sensory processing is able to focus on a teachers’ verbal instructions without distraction from other sources of sensory information (e.g. other students talking, posters on the walls, noise from the hallway). Efficient sensory processing comes naturally for some children, however it may be more difficult for those with hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli.
Common presentations of children who experience sensory sensitivities (hyper-sensitive):
- A child that covers their ears with loud noise or startles easily at loud or unexpected sounds.
- A child that refuses to wear certain items of clothing or complains that certain items of clothing ‘feel scratchy’ or ‘hurt their skin’.
- A child that will only eat a limited number of different foods (a ‘picky eater’).
- A child that prefers darkness or complains of headaches with bright light.
Children who are hypo-sensitive to sensory input may not respond to their name being called, miss visual information, not notice that their hands or face are dirty, or prefer constant movement. Different from children with hyper-sensitivity, they often require a greater amount of sensory input to induce a response.
Sensory processing also involves the vestibular system, proprioception and interoception. The vestibular system contributes to motor function via spatial orientation, postural stability and balance. Proprioception also assists with motor function via body awareness and grading movement (controlling the force and pressure applied in physical movement). Children with difficulties modulating their vestibular and proprioceptive systems are often considered “clumsy”. Interoception refers to internal sensations such as feeling hunger, thirst, fatigue, cold/hot, and the need to go to the toilet.
How can an Occupational Therapist help?
Our Occupational Therapists assess each child to determine how they register and process sensory information. Recommendations are then provided to assist the child with sensory processing, completing daily tasks, and optimizing their classroom engagement.
To enquire about any of our Occupational Therapy services either complete the get in touch form below, call us or use the ‘book now’ feature.