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Sensory Processing: an introduction

Our sensory system

 Most of us will have an awareness of our external senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Our receptors pull in the sensory information from the external environment to our brain which allows us to see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.

We also have internal senses. Those senses are proprioception, vestibular, and interoception. Our receptors pull in the sensory information within our bodies to our brain to give us information about our posture, balance, our position in space, and what is happening in our body.


Here is an overview of those three systems: 

Vestibular: The vestibular system is found in the inner ear and detects the position and movement of our head in space. This allows for the coordination of eye movements, posture, balance, and stability.


Proprioception: proprioception is the sense that tells the body where it is in space. Proprioception plays a big role in self-regulation, coordination, posture, body awareness, the ability to focus, and speech.


Interoception: Interoception allows us to feel sensations from the inside of our body (e.g., an empty stomach, needing the toilet, feeling sleepy). These interoceptive sensations provide important clues to what emotion we are experiencing. When our body feels a certain way, our brain uses that information to help us identify what emotion we are experiencing.


Spotlight on proprioception

 Many children with sensory processing disorders, Autism, and ADHD struggle with processing information. This is because their body is not processing the proprioceptive input effectively, the signals are not clear and therefore poorly registered.


Signs of proprioceptive dysfunction

Poor Motor Planning/Coordination and poor Body Awareness. It can be difficult to understand personal space or understanding boundaries when playing with others. It can also present as a delay in gross and fine motor skills, bumping into objects, difficulty riding a bike, difficulty going up and down stairs, or difficulty with speech.


Poor Self-Regulation Skills. This can present as frequent meltdowns, difficulty attending to tasks, mood swings, and difficulty with sleep.


Sensory Seeking Behaviours. This can be playing rough, tapping or shaking feet while sitting, chewing, biting, appreciating tight clothes, or certain fabrics, pushing or hitting others, or putting too much pressure on the paper when writing.


Poor Postural Control. We may notice a slouch posture, rests head on the desk while working, leaning on everything, poor muscle tone, and inability to balance on one foot.


Children who have difficulty sensing or processing proprioception often try to self-regulate by engaging in activities that provide intense or frequent proprioceptive input.

We can support individuals with sensory processing difficulties, and also account for these in the environments we create in our clinic spaces, to allow everyone to get the most from their therapeutic journey.

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