What is Sensory Processing?

May 31 , 2024

What is sensory processing?
Sensory processing is a term used to describe how our brain processes information from our senses. From an early age, we are taught about the 5 senses (see, touch, taste, smell, and hear), but did you know there are 3 additional senses in our sensory system? These are:

● Proprioception (information from our joints and muscles that contribute to body awareness)
● Vestibular (information from our inner ear that contributes to our balance and body control)
● Interoception (information from our internal organs that contribute to sensations of pain, hunger,
full bladder, etc.)

Why does this matter?
All of the above senses help us navigate the world around us on an everyday basis. For example, when we smell delicious food, this can often trigger our sense of hunger, or when we see or feel rainfall, we instinctively will go indoors or open an umbrella to keep us dry. It is estimated that 1 in 6 children have some varying level of sensory processing difficulties. Sensory processing looks different for everyone in terms of how responsive we are to sensory inputs such as noise,
light, movement, food textures, etc. Think of sensory processing as cups – every child has different sized sensory cups and varying amounts of sensory needs across each sensory system. The goal is to be able to fill the cup with sensory inputs to help the child feel satisfied or regulated, as opposed to overflow of the
cup which can cause a sensory overload. A child who is underresponsive may show little to no response to sensory input and therefore require longer periods of time to process sensory input. These children are often referred to as “sensory seekers” because they seek constant input throughout the day to fill their big
sensory cups and to help them feel regulated. On the other hand, a child who is overreponsive is quick to process sensory information, and a little sensory input might seem like a lot. These children are referred to as “sensory avoiders” because oftentimes they are sensitive to different inputs and therefore will avoid them to keep their small sensory cup from overflowing and causing a sensory overload.

At the end of the day, understanding your child’s sensory needs are essential for providing the support they need on a day to day basis.

How can I support my child at home?

For Sensory Seekers
● Playing at the park
● Jumping on the trampoline
● Heavy work (carrying/pushing/pulling heavy items, wall/chair push ups, animal walks,
tug-of-war, etc.)
● Movement games (scavenger hunts, races, hopscotch, bike riding, swimming, etc.)
● Obstacle courses (with items around the home)
● Sensory bins (sand, beans, water, rice, etc.)
● Deep pressure input (weighted blanket, vest, and/or lap pad)
● Fidget toys
● Playdoh/slime
● Therapeutic stretching

For Sensory Avoiders
● Calming music
● Sensory bins (sand, beans, water, rice, etc.)
● Create a calming corner at home for quiet breaks (soft pillows, warm lighting, relaxing music,
● Noise canceling headphones
● Deep pressure input (weighted blanket/vest/lap pad, massage, tight hugs, etc.)
● Deep breathing in play (blowing cotton balls/pom pom’s with a straw, blowing bubbles, etc.)
● Sensory brushing (ask your child’s OT for more information)
● Therapeutic Listening (ask your child’s OT for more information)
● Therapeutic stretching

Arky, B. (2023). Sensory processing issues explained. Child Mind Institute.
HSE. (n.d.). Sensory processing tips and strategies.
Kong, M., & Moreno, M. A. (2018). Sensory processing in children. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(12):1208. doi:
McKenna, K. (n.d.). All about sensory cups. https://theautismhelper.com/all-about-sensory-cups/
Play with your Food! (n.d.). Understanding sensory: Over-responsive and under-responsive.