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Sensory Processing: What is it?

Sensory processing refers to the way in which an individual’s brain processes, organises and responds to sensory information. This sensory input can come in the form of auditory, visual, touch, movement, body position, oral and/or other sensory stimuli.

Sensory processing difficulties often come in the form of two variations. One of these is hypersensitivity and the other is hyposensitivity.

Hypersensitivity refers to when a child is over-sensitive to sensory input (sensory avoider). For example, a child may feel highly overwhelmed by loud noises and certain textures of food and therefore, they will avoid these sensory experiences.

On the other hand, hyposensitivity refers to when a child is under-sensitive to sensory input and therefore, they will seek more sensory information (sensory seeker). For example, a child may enjoy rough play and thrilling/risky experiences.

A mix of these two variations (hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity) is often experienced across the different sensory systems. For example, a child may avoid loud noises, but also seek physical contact/deep pressure. Every child is different.

There are also many reactions that children can have to sensory information. A child may overreact or underreact. Overreacting to sensory input may look like a child having extreme emotions if they hear a loud siren or the tag on their clothing rubs against their skin e.g. crying, very distressed, meltdown, unable to cope. Underreacting to sensory input may look like a child seeming to miss sensory input e.g. keeping hand on hot stove, not noticing/cleaning mud off hands, etc. This is because they don’t register sensory input in the same way as somebody else does.

It’s important to note that children with sensory processing difficulties are not trying to be challenging. Their brains have difficulty processing, organising and responding to information that comes in through the senses. The overreacting or underreacting is not a choice. It is a result of what the child’s brain is telling them about that particular sensory stimulus.

Sensory processing challenges can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to participate and perform in activities of their daily life. If your child is having difficulties in this area or you have questions about your child’s overall development, our therapists at Kids That Go may be able to help.

Madison Brook (Occupational Therapist)

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