Sensory processing refers to the neurological process of analyzing, organizing and interpreting sensory information, and subsequently, planning and making a response. We discover and experience the world around us through a constant flow of information from our senses—touch, hearing, sight, taste, smell, proprioceptive (body position), vestibular (movement and balance) and interoception (click here for more information on interoception). However there can be problems with how these systems communicate, resulting in sensory processing difficulties. Unfortunately, sensory integration does not come naturally to all of us.
A child, teen or young adult with sensory processing difficulties may perceive sensory information as overwhelming, confusing or distorted. Oftentimes, seemingly simple tasks are frustrating and the child does not feel the usual security, confidence, and joy from activity that other children do. Sometimes primary bodily needs like hunger, thirst, and warmth are not met. With treatment, our patients can master skills and increase self-confidence.
Sensory processing typically happens seamlessly, and we are not consciously aware of the work our brains are doing. We innately understand what is happening around us, how we need to respond, and automatically develop a plan or action sequence in response to the sensation. For instance, most of us can easily discern a congratulatory pat on the back from a “listen up” tap on the shoulder and quickly respond accordingly. Without this unconscious sense, children who have difficulties efficiently and accurately processing sensory information may be misunderstood, and the disorder is often unrecognized. Sensory integrative dysfunction is seen in otherwise typically developing children as well as those with autism, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and other neurological conditions. A child with difficulties processing sensory information may have delays in motor skills and problems with self-regulation, attention, and behavior.
components of sensory processing disorders
Described in the drop down boxes below, there are three components of sensory processing disorders.
An Occupational Therapist trained in sensory integration theory may determine a child aligns with one, or in some cases, even multiple of the diagnoses below based on standardized tests, and structured clinical observations on an evaluation (Click HERE to Schedule an Evaluation today)
Sensory modulation allows us to respond to relevant sensory input and disregard other sensations. Our sensory likes and dislikes, as well as the quantity of sensory stimulation that we prefer, are determined by the modulation component. Our tolerance of sensation is very personal and situational. One person may enjoy music while reading while another requires silence, but both may enjoy music while doing household chores. Children with difficulties modulating sensory input may fear typical sensations or seek extreme sensation. Read some examples.
Essentially the brain’s ability to decide how much of each sensory information to pay attention to, and filter out sensations which are not needed. A good way to think of it is like a radio; essentially the brains ability to turn up or down the “volume,” on a particular sensation.
Imagine a noisy restaurant that may be difficult to hear, and yet when someone you know calls your name, you are able to hear and attend to it clearly.
Efficient sensory discrimination informs our brains about the specific qualities of sensation so it can distinguish one experience from another. Sensory discrimination allows us to determine if a siren is moving toward or away from us. We are able to learn about the size, shape and texture of objects and discern body positions and movements. Difficulties with sensory discrimination frequently result in poor coordination and delayed development of motor skill. Click here for more functional signs of inefficient perception of sensation.
Sensory Based Movement Disorder
A sensory-based movement disorder may be secondary to a postural disorder or dyspraxia. Good posture is a clear example of normal vestibular and proprioceptive processing. Additionally, having good posture and core strength is a prerequisite for developing proper fine motor skills. For signs of a postural disorder, please click here.
Motor planning or praxis (from the Greek, “to do”) is the ability to formulate an idea, to make a plan that includes timing and sequencing, and to execute the plan for a new or non-habitual movement. The processes of beginning and ending movement are discrete aspects of motor planning, as are the minute adjustments in response to body feedback and environmental cues that must take place once movement is initiated.
Dyspraxia is the term applied when children have difficulty with motor planning. For signs of dyspraxia, please click here.
We provide intervention using the principles of sensory integration theory to address the child’s underlying sensory and motor issues, thereby building a strong foundation for life skills. Treatment is individualized and engages the child’s unique interests in the context of play. Activities are designed to be challenging enough to motivate, but supported enough to ensure success. Creating this “just-right” challenge necessitates a dance between the child and therapist as adjustments are continually made in response to the child’s performance and sensory responses.