Sensory Processing: what it’s all about…

Sensory processing is all about taking in information through our senses, making ‘sense’ of this information, integrate it with prior information, memories and knowledge stored in the brain, and making a meaningful response.

As well as the commonly know 5 senses – taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch – there are 2 less well, but equally important senses – proprioception (or position sense) and vestibular (balance sense).

None of these senses work alone…but work together in a complex way to enable our bodies to gather, filter and integrate information about the world in order to respond and behave appropriately.

If there are no issues with the way we detect and process this information we will make a meaningful response….no problems…

But if body doesn’t detect or process sensory information correctly there will be problems which impact on behaviour and learning including academic learning in the classroom environment.

Children on the autistic spectrum commonly have difficulties with sensory processing.  This, along with communication difficulties, makes the world a very confusing and stressful place.

How do sensory processing difficulties present….3 main ways….

—  Poor modulation – under or over responding to sensory input from the body or environment  (eg. in more extreme cases children flapping their arms/hands)

—  Processing/discrimination errors – not making accurate ‘sense’ of the information (eg. not processing visual and auditory information)

—  Motor difficulties & postural instability– problems with stabilising, moving, or planning a series of movements (eg. low tone, slumping posture)

So, when should we need to do something about it?

When the sensory issues impact of the child’s behaviour and learning to the extent that it causes problems for self or others and/or restricts access the school curriculum and affects academic achievement, then, some form of intervention is appropriate.

What can be done?

  • Intensive sensory integration therapy, is one option,  or
  • ‘Sensory diet’….which is specific intervention undertaken every day – at home and at school – to meet individual sensory needs, to make the environment more conducive to learning.  This might involve adding some things or might perhaps removing things.  The ‘diet’ is devised after the child’s sensory profile is determined.  This profile identifies in which sensory processing areas the child may be experiencing difficulties.

 

Remember….

–  Every student is different and unique.

–  Responses to sensory input can vary from child to child and from day to day for each individual student.

–  It is impossible to change everything all at once…the goal should be to identify 2 or 3 good interventions and trial those.  More changes can be introduced at a later stage.

Some general sensory strategies which are useful as part of a ‘sensory diet’….

Reducing stimuli, modify stimuli (add opportunity for sensory input), routine/structure, movement opportunities (including cushions), deep pressure touch, heavy work, oral-motor activities, fidget toys are all good, general strategies.

Calming Strategies….

—Quiet play activities, structured play, blowing (eg, bubbles), sucking (eg. lolly, straw), hugs, heavy work activities, gentle rocking – linear – one direction, dim lighting, warmth

Stimulating/Energising Strategies

—  Music with fast, uneven beat, chewy lollies, heavy work activities, add texture to tasks, fidget toys, bouncing, jumping, spinning, rocking – non-linear – different directions, colour coding, auditory cues to get attention (eg. clap, whistle), bright lighting, cold temperature

Some of these simple strategies can be highly effective in assisting children to better regulate and process sensory information and, in turn, organise themselves and their behavioural responses.

There is a wealth of information on the internet about sensory processing and sensory processing disorders plus many websites where sensory toys and equipment can be purchased.  Simply search ‘sensory processing’.  There are also some very good books such as ‘The Out Of Synch Child’ by Carol Stock Kranowitz, also available on the net.

For more information please see an Occupational Therapist.  The Let’s Talk Clinic at Woolloongabba can assist families and their children with sensory processing issues.

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