Sensory Processing:

Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns the messages into appropriate motor and behavior responses.  

What is Sensory Processing:

Sensory responses take place within the nervous system at an unconscious level and we generally are not aware of them.  Our sensory systems involve taste, smell, sight and sound.  Our nervous system also senses touch, movement, force of gravity and body positions.  For some of us, the messages from our sensory systems does not become organized into appropriate motor and/or behavior responses.  When individuals have difficulty organizing sensory input correctly it can have a negative impact on the individual participating in everyday tasks.  Some individuals may seek intense sensory input while other individuals may be sensitivity to any amount of sensory input.  Some individuals may walk through life “fearful” of their surroundings, while other individuals may walk through life “like a bull in a china shop”.  Individuals with sensory processing difficulties may presents as weak, clumsy, awkward, emotional and/or behavioral.  Treating therapists are able to identify which sensory systems are either under or over responsive and utilize therapeutic activities to facilitate an adaptive motor and/or behavioral response.  

Areas that can be impacted by sensory processing difficulties:

  • Grooming activities such as tooth brushing, bathing, hair washing, hair brushing, nail clipping etc.
  • Dressing
  • Exploring new environments with bare feet or skin contact (i.e. grass, sand, woodchips, etc).
  • Education
  • Have a well-rounded diet with variety of textured foods
  • Peer interactions
  • Participating in age appropriate activities

Programs used with children who have sensory processing difficulties:

Sensory Processing Red Flags

  • Overly sensitive to noise, smells, touch
  • Problems eating certain textures
  • Irritable with certain clothing
  • Resists hugs or contact with others
  • Clumsy, poor motor skills
  • Constantly moving around, more than peers.
  • Fearful or avoids movement (playground equipment’s, swings, etc.)
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Making constant noise with mouth or other objects
  • Complete activities with excessive force
  • Purposefully crashing to the floor or into other objects
  • Runs into objects in familiar environments
  • Avoids getting dirty or becomes distress when dirty
  • Does not register pain

How we treat SPD:

Children can be under-responsive to sensory input, over-responsive to sensory input and/or seek sensory input.  Each sensory system if different, therefore a child may be under-responsive with one sensory systems and over responsive with another.  Therapist are trained to identify what type of sensory input is required in various circumstance in order to produce the desired responses to improve participation in activities of daily living.  Children’s main occupation is playing!  Therefore, in therapy we play while incorporating various sensory input into play activities.   

When children are under-responsive they do not register certain sensory stimuli that an intact sensory system would register.  Under-responsive children may not respond appropriately to pain, may not notice visual stimuli in their environment, may not respond to name being called, might constantly be bumping into people or objects, may drag hand along walls, may seem sluggish and/or spin excessively and not get dizzy.  Therapists customize therapy activities to “wake up” the under-responsive sensory systems.   Therapy activities may include but not limited to, weighted vest, intense linear swinging, spinning, jumping, crashing, alerting auditory input, therapressure brushing, animal walks, yoga, heavy work activities (pushing and pull against resistance), climbing, eating sour foods, drinking cold liquids and eating crunchy foods.   

When a child is over-responsive, their sensory systems are overly sensitive to stimuli compared to an intact sensory system.  Children who are over responsive may present as emotional children.  They may scream or cry when wearing certain clothing (i.e. tags in the back of the shirt, seams in socks), gag when eating certain textures or to certain smells, fearful of playgrounds and swings or covers ears with certain noises.  For children who are over-responsive, our main goal is to desensitize their sensory system.  We slowly introduce the targeted stimuli for “the just right challenge”.  We want to challenge the child to engage with the stimuli but not too much that the child will run away or have a negative experience with the stimuli.  Therapy activities may include but not limited to sensory bins (beans, rice, bird seed), playing in shaving cream, playing in our food, therapressure brushing, heavy input rather than light touch, finger painting and auditory input.

When children seek sensory input they are similar to under-responsive children as they need more sensory input to register stimuli, however sensory seekers are actively seeking certain stimuli to make themselves feel grounded (also known as regulated).  Sensory seekers presents are children who are constantly moving.  They may fidget in class, appear impulsive, jump instead of walk, touch everything and make constant noise.  Sensory seekers require frequent and sometimes intense movement breaks in order to complete age appropriate tasks.  Movement breaks may include jumping, swinging, crashing, running, biking and/or visual stimuli.  Sensory seekers benefit from environmental accommodations that provide constant input such as rocking chairs verse regular chairs, tying theraband around the legs of the chair, sitting on air cushions, fidgets, weighted vest, and/or weighed blankets.

Sensory Processing Disorders

Sensory Processing Disorder Therapy North County San Diego