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What is Sensory Processing?

In simple terms, sensory processing is what we call the process which determines our interpretation of events, experiences and how we feel about things. Our body has various receptors which respond to different senses – for example, our taste buds which allow us to distinguish flavors, or light receptors in our eyes to interpret colors. In addition to the traditional senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, sensory processes also relates to the processing of movement, body position and internal sensations.

Differences in our sensory perceptions are part of being human, we are all individuals, and in the most part these variances have no impact on our lives. In some cases, however, the way we process sensory information can affect how we behave, and accordingly our reactions and performance in certain situations.

Hypersensitivity is where an individual is either over responsive or under responsive to a certain stimulus. For example, a child who experiences auditory over responsiveness will notice every distinct sound, and variations in them, making it extremely difficult to focus on the required sounds. Conversely, if a child is under responsive to audio stimuli, they may struggle to identify individual sounds – such as their name being called. In both cases this could lead to disruption; the child seeming ignorant or creating their own ‘white noise’ in order to drawn out the many competing noises.

Sensory processing difficulties can present in many ways, as an individual issue or alongside a range of other disorders including learning difficulties, people on the autistic spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and others. The manifestation of these issues can have a detrimental effect on a child’s ability to play, learn and communicate with others.

When assessing the likelihood of your child having a sensory processing difficulty, it is important to remember that many of these behaviors may show simply due to the stage of development your child has reached and should be considered relative to their age.

Here are some first signs to look for in your child. Becoming agitated when:
– wearing certain clothing
– when in bright light
– touching certain materials.

The response will be unique to each child, but typically affect focus, socialization, eating preferences, gross and fine motor skills and activity levels.

In some instances, the child will learn to manage these variances themselves to find a comfortable place with your support, other times it can be helpful for the child and family as whole to seek the assistance of a professional.

Parents should ensure they approach potential behaviors which could be an indication of a sensory difficult with tact and patience. Much of the world can be an inhospitable place for those who experience it in different ways, and it is important the child understands they are not at fault. Therapy can be crucial in helping families to understand and support a child with sensory difficulties and ensure they can reach their full potential.

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