www.sensoryprocessing.com defines sensory processing as “the brain’s ability to organize and make sense of different kinds of sensation entering the brain at the same time”. This is also known as ‘sensory integration’.
In addition to the five well-known senses, touch, taste, smell, vision and hearing, occupational therapists cite two extra senses: proprioceptive (also called the kinaesthetic sense – the sense of the body’s movement and position in space and includes bodily pressure) and vestibular (balance). Sensory processing also extends to the perception of pain, temperature, hunger and thirst, as well as other internal senses related to bodily function.
Children with sensory processing difficulties may be over- or under-sensitive in any of these areas.
A child may be over-sensitive when they are unable to filter out extraneous stimuli. Over-sensitivity can cause a child to be distractible, hyperactive and unable to concentrate on the task at hand. Other children who are over-sensitive may seek to actively avoid the overwhelming sensory stimuli, and develop rituals to control their environment.
A child who is under-sensitive to sensory stimuli may not receive enough sensory input from their environment. In some cases this can cause the child to become ‘sensory seeking’, seeking sensory input from their environment to stimulate their nervous systems and elevate their levels of alertness. On other children they may accept this state of ‘low registration’, causing them to be more passive and less likely to engage with their environment. They may appear lethargic and tire more easily than their peers.
References: Learning Through the Senses, Appendices pp86-7.
Teaching Exceptional Children July/Aug 2011