What Exactly is ‘Sensory Processing’?

What Exactly is Sensory Processing?

Have you heard the term ‘sensory processing’, but aren’t too sure what it really means? Don’t worry — you’re far from alone. So today we’re sharing the fundamentals of sensory processing with you.

Our (Extra) Senses

We teach our children early on about our senses: our eyes can see, our ears can listen and hear, our hands and skin can touch and feel, we taste with our mouth and smell with our nose. All basic and easy to understand, right?

But, did you know we actually have more than five senses?

Here’s a curly question: Which senses do we use when we are putting a coat on, or getting dressed in the dark? How do we know where our arms and legs are? It’s thanks to our body awareness sense, called Proprioception.

And how about if we’re turned upside down with our eyes are closed, how come our bodies know we’re not the right way up? Or when we’re in an elevator, how do we know that it’s moving? It’s because we have a balance sense and, therefore, a relationship with gravity — this is called our Vestibular system.

When we add proprioceptive and vestibular sensory information together we are getting a lot of information about our body, and in turn we can…

… move our body through the world with the correct force of movement
… correct our posture if we are about to fall over, and
… hold our body upright

(All of which are important to daily life!)

Sensory Processing

In essence, each of our brains receives lots of information about the world around us and about our bodies. Sensory Processing is when our brain processes and interprets this sensory information. It allows us to act, move, behave and respond in the correct way for the situation or to do any task, for that matter.

Sensory processing is key to lots of daily activities and tasks we take for granted. For example:

  • Reading and writing: We first need to be able to attach meaning to the words we see and hear
  • Classroom and sport activities: In order to participate well, we need to be able to plan and organise our movements and behaviour

These abilities, and many more, are dependent upon the efficiency of our sensory processing. The efficiency of this process is one of degree, whereby some brains function well in their sensory processing ability and others less well.

So, what are Sensory Processing Disorders?

A Sensory Processing Disorder is when the brain has difficulty organising sensory signals into appropriate responses. This means the person experiences their senses more or less intensely than others. These deficiencies interfere with learning, behaviour, emotions and our energy levels.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development talk directly to an experienced occupational therapist.