Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Sensory Importance and Difficulties

Sensory Processing

Our SENSES – where would we be without them? They allow us to experience the world in so many different ways – from smelling the scent of fresh flowers, to being able to feel the soft fur on a puppy, to listening to your favourite song on the radio. Sensory processing is essentially our ability to conceive, plan and carry out an action so that the sensations that we experience are translated into a meaningful bodily response. So, turning up the volume and singing along when you hear your favourite song come on the radio!

Some individuals experience difficulties processing sensory information, which in turn greatly affects how they are able to live their lives. Current estimates indicate that between 45—96% of children on the autism spectrum experience sensory processing difficulties (Ben-Sasson et al, 2009; Lane et al; 2010). Many people may experience challenges processing sensory information, but it is only when those challenges start to interfere with their everyday functioning i.e. their ability to participate in school or complete self care tasks, that this becomes a problem.

We all know and have learned of our ‘5 senses’:

             Touch (Tactile)

Taste (Gustatory)
Smell (Olfactory)

Sight (Visual)
            Sound (Auditory)

But there are also 3 more, less well known, very important senses that affect the way we interact with the world.

Our vestibular sense, or our sense of BALANCE, relies on receptors located in our inner ear to help our body regulate and adjust to movement in any direction i.e. riding in a car, train or plane.

Our sense of proprioception, which uses information from receptors in our muscles and joints, helps our bodies understand their POSITION IN SPACE and apply the appropriate amount of pressure we may need for i.e. writing with a pencil, pushing pedals on a bike.

Last but not least, our sense of interoception, or our ability to sense what is happening INSIDE OUR BODIES, relies on a variety of receptors in our organs, muscles and skin, to help us identify things like when we are hungry, need to use the bathroom, feeling changes in temperature or pain level.

Individuals with sensory processing difficulties will often be either:
  • HYPER-sensitive (extra sensitive), 
  • HYPO-sensitive (under sensitive) or 
  • have difficulty discriminating what sense they are feeling entirely!                               
  • This can differ between senses too. For example many individuals with sensory processing challenges have trouble with either getting dizzy easily or never getting dizzy, feeling the need to push, jump, pull or hang or feeling the need to avoid these sensations. Or maybe they can only handle certain textures of foods in their mouths or don’t like to get their hands messy. These are all examples of sensory challenges, which may or may not be impacting on the individual’s ability to function in their daily lives.

If you are concerned that your child’s sensory processing abilities may be impacting their daily activities, please speak to your Occupational Therapist for more information and guidance.

Written by: Rachel Tavares, OT (Reg.) Ont. Registered Occupational Therapist, Bodiworks Institute 


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