Each of us experiences the world through our senses. We smell the air freshener in the room, taste the food we eat, see the faces of our friends and family and hear the conversation of those around us. Sensory processing is the method our bodies use to transform the massive amount of sensory input we are receiving from the world around us, organise the process this information and make an adaptive response appropriate to the situation.
Although we tend to think of our senses as separate, in reality all our sensory systems work together to provide us with a reliable, detailed and constantly evolving picture of the world around us and our place within it.
Some children have difficulty processing this information. These children can experience over or under responsiveness to everyday sensory information. This can have a profound effect on many aspects of their life including daily functioning, social interactions, behaviour, learning, regulating emotions and interacting with their environment.
Children who are under responsive can present as sensory seeking, always “on the go,” jumping, crashing, climbing on furniture, taking excessive risks and touching everything in sight.
Children who are over responsive on the other hand can present as avoidant, defensive or excessively sensitive to the world around them. Loud noises, bright lights, the feel of clothing, the taste and texture of food, messy play and social contact with others can all be hugely challenging and make the world in which they live a very anxiety producing place.
Difficulties in any area of sensory processing, over or under responsiveness, can have a major impact on academic performance, behaviour and general wellbeing.
The good news is that there are excellent assessments and interventions for identifying sensory processing issues and an experienced Occupational Therapist can help develop an individualised “sensory diet” to remediate sensory processing issues.
This “diet” is simply a set of strategies, activities and games that can be integrated naturally into the home and classroom to address the specific sensory issues the child is experiencing. This kind of support can be very helpful in improving attention in class, regulating emotions, improving self-confidence and reducing anxiety relating to sensory experience.
The Occupational Therapist will collaborate closely with both the family and teaching staff to ensure all learning and development is generalised into those areas where it matters most, in the child’s daily experience.