Sensory Processing

In-home & Clinic-based Occupational Therapy

What are sensory processing skills?
In order to make sense of the world around us, we must combine the information that we receive from all of our senses using our sensory processing skills. Sensory processing involves registering, organizing, and integrating information perceived from our body and environment in order to make meaningful and appropriate responses to our surroundings on a day-to-day basis. In short, sensory processing makes it possible for us to interact with and understand our environment.

Sensory information can be categorized into the following types of input: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, vestibular, and proprioception. For the lesser known senses, vestibular processing occurs within the inner ear and provides information regarding the position of our head in space. Proprioception involves receptors in the body’s joints and muscles and informs us of the relative position of the different parts of our body, how our body is moving, and how much effort or force is being employed in movement.

So, why is this important?
Sensory processing is hugely important because it impacts our ability to respond to the world around us, which in turn impacts everything that we do. When a child is able to make sense of incoming sensory input, they are able to make appropriate responses, evidenced through skill mastery and regulated attention, behavior, and emotional state.

When a child has difficulty with sensory processing, they may have difficulty filtering relevant from irrelevant information in their environment, seem to be unaware of where their body is in space, be hypersensitive to loud noises or visual distractions, or have trouble registering pertinent stimuli at all; this can lead to difficulties with attention, social interactions with peers, behavior, coordination, and more. Consequently, this can lead to challenges performing in the classroom, completing self-care tasks, engaging with peers, and executing coordinated movements during functional play.

What are some signs of challenges in this area?
Signs that a child may be experiencing challenges with this skill area may include the following:

  • Withdrawing from unexpected touch
  • Dislike of teeth-brushing, hair-washing, or nail-cutting
  • Oversensitivity to sounds or visual stimuli
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Poor posture control or strength
  • Fear of heights
  • Tires easily
  • Uses too much or too little force
  • Poor balance
  • Jump, spin, or move more than others

How can OT help?
Occupational therapy can aid children in exploring their senses in a safe environment and learning how to organize sensory information, thereby enabling increasingly successful participation in their day-to-day surroundings. Through carefully designed and individually tailored interventions, occupational therapists guide children in developing efficient and strong sensory processing systems.

Additionally, occupational therapists help children build the skills necessary to recognize how their body processes and responds to sensory input, as well as strategies for adaptation in a variety of environments to facilitate desired levels of alertness. Occupational therapists also educate families in techniques that can be implemented at home to aid in optimal regulation throughout a child’s day. As a whole, occupational therapists work with children and their families to facilitate development of sensory processing systems, as well as to provide education and strategies for success across all contexts.

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Sensory Processing - Chicago Occupational Therapy