Sensory Processing – What is it? And How OT can help!
Sensory processing refers to the nervous system and how the eight (yes, eight!) senses are registered, and turned into motor and behavioral responses. Usually, sensory information is registered and processed subconsciously by our nervous system. The senses include taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight, proprioception (where your body is in space), vestibular (movement sense), and interoception (internal state of your body). We receive these sensations and use them to interact with our environment. (Dean, Little, Tomchek, & Dunn, 2018, p. 1).
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) occurs when the sensory signals are not registered in the nervous system, or there are inappropriate responses to the sensory input. Someone with SPD can have difficulty with processing or responding to information that is received from their senses. This can cause difficulty with performing every day activities. Other concerns related to Sensory Processing Disorder may include clumsiness, behavioral outbursts, anxiety, and difficulty with focusing. (Dean, Little, Tomchek, & Dunn, 2018, p. 1).
When Sensory Processing Disorder is a suspected or a concern, an occupational therapist is usually consulted for evaluation and treatment intervention. There are many ways that occupational therapists can help with sensory processing and promote appropriate responses to sensory inputs:
- Collaborate with families, physicians, nurses, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, psychologists, teachers, employers, and other professionals to determine the need for specialized evaluation and intervention.
- Identify and modify sensory and environmental barriers that limit performance and participation in every day activities, as well as identify individual strengths and supports.
- Teach and model activities to support sensory, motor, and behavioral needs.
- Identify and provide adaptive sensory and motor strategies and interventions using a variety of sensory approaches to facilitate full participation in daily routines and social interactions.
- Help raise an individual’s self awareness of the impact of sensory and motor factors on everyday activities and real life situations, and provide ways to counter sensory processing challenges.” (AOTA, 2015, p. 1).
- Identify sensory integration strategies to address the underlying neurological processing of sensation
- This is done through active participation in individually customized sensory rich and occupation centered activities
- These activities work to support adaptive responses and occupational performance.” (Watling & Mori, 2015, p. 1).
- Activities often include custom sensory diets that occupational therapists develop for each individual client depending on their needs.
Sensory Processing is an integral part of our lives. Occupational therapists utilize their skills to improve an individual’s ability to appropriately process and respond to sensory information. Then, an individual is able to interact with their environment, complete activities of daily living, and do the activities that they love to do!
If you would like more information on sensory processing and feel that your child could benefit from occupational therapy please call and talk with one of our therapists today!
- Dean, E. E., Little, L., Tomchek, S., & Dunn, W. (2018). Sensory processing in the general population: Adaptability, resiliency, and challenging behavior. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7201195060. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.019919
- Watling, R., & Mori, A. B. (2015). Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about: Ayres sensory integration. American Occupational Therapy Association.
- Mori, A. B. (2015). Addressing sensory integration and sensory processing disorders across the lifespan: The role of occupational therapy. American Occupational Therapy Association.
Contributors: Kaitlin Lecato, OTR and Jennifer Gunderson, PT, MPT