Sensory Processing

brain, head, silhouette

Happy Sensory Processing Awareness Month!

Sensory processing is a very complex topic (and one of my favorites!). The brain receives input from the different senses and turns this input into a motor or behavioral response. For those with sensory processing differences, the information goes into the brain, but doesn’t get organized appropriately. Think of the brain like a file cabinet. Sensory input comes in as what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and when we move. We skim and file the input (papers) and put them in their corresponding folders. When papers are organized in their proper folders, the response is appropriate. When you have papers flying all around and not sorted in proper folders, your body feels overwhelmed and produces an unexpected response.

The 8 Senses

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Gustatory (taste)
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Tactile (touch)
  • Vestibular (sense of head movement, balance)
  • Proprioception (sensations from muscles and joints)
  • Interoception (sensations from internal organs)


Common Ways Sensory Differences Can Appear

  • Dislikes tags or seams on clothing
  • Prefers only certain textures of foods
  • Avoids or is sensitive to certain smells
  •  Appears clumsy, bumps into furniture
  • Uses too much, or too little pressure (e.g. when writing, when closing or opening doors or when pushing in chairs)
  • Easily distracted by items on walls or people/movement within a classroom
  • Fearful of feet leaving the ground
  • Avoids crowds or noisy areas
  • Hypersensitive or easily distracted by noises
  • Distressed by light touch
  • Leans on people or walls
  • Enjoys rough play
  • Chews items or clothing
  • Runs hands along the wall, constantly fighting or touching items
  • Upset when hands are messy
  • Won’t walk on certain textures (e.g. grass, sand)

Activities to Help a Child with Sensory Differences

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Tactile

  • Playdough
  • Water play
  • Touch and feel books
  • Crawling
  • Sand Play
  • Sensory bins- dry rice, bean, noodles
  • Finger paint
  • Draw/write in salt
  • Shaving cream play
  • Lotion massage

Vestibular

  • Scooter board
  • Swings
  • Trampoline
  • Bounce on exercise ball 
  • Ride bike
  • Sit n spin toy
  • Roll on floor, down a hill
  • Hang upside down
  • Dance
  • Jump rope
  • Obstacle course
  • Yoga 
  • Animal walks

Visual

  • Glitter bottles
  • Oil timers
  • Aquarium, fish tank
  • Kalaidescopes
  • Glow sticks
  •  Flashlight games
  • Lava lamp
  • Bubbles
  • Dim lighting, avoid fluorescents
  • Reduce visual clutter on walls, worksheets
 
 

Olfactory

  • Diffuser with essential oils
  • Scented markers, crayons, stickers
  • Scented play dough or putty
  • Scented lotions
  • Scented bubbles
  • Smell flowers
  • Smell different spices/herbs
  • Smell items while blindfolded and guess what they are

Gustatory

  • Explore tastes (sour, salty, bitter, sweet, spicy)
  •  Explore textures (smooth, lumpy, crunchy, chewy, mixed)
  • Explore food temperatures
  • Lollipops, popsicles
  • Crunchy foods (pretzels, carrots)
  • Use straw with thickened liquids (e.g. applesauce, smoothie)
  • Flavored chapsticks
  • Suck a lemon or pickle
  • Add spice to foods

Auditory

  • Musical instruments
  • Listen to music
  • Sing
  • Sound, white noise machine
  • Rain stick
  • Listen to sounds in nature
  • Clapping games, “repeat after me”
  • Puzzles with sound

Interoception

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness and breathing activities
  •  Social stories (for using restroom, hunger/thirst)
  • Explore different temperatures
  • Alerting and calming activities- discuss how your body feels with each

Proprioception

  • Animal walks
  • Carry, push, pull weighted items
  •  Swim
  • Mop, vacuum, sweep
  • Rake leaves
  • Play dough or putty
  • Tug of war
  • Yoga
  • Bear hugs or self hugs

It’s important to choose and modify sensory activities and accommodations based on each child’s individual sensory preferences. 

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