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  • Lisa Cooseman, OTR/L, MS

What is Sensory Processing?

October is Sensory Awareness Month and we’d like to take the opportunity to answer the question…What is Sensory Processing?

We learn about our bodies and the world around us through the use of our senses. Everything we do requires the use of our seven sensory systems: tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), auditory (sound), visual (sight), vestibular (movement & balance), and proprioceptive (body awareness & movement). Sensory processing is the ability of the nervous system to perceive sensory information, process it, and produce a response based on how the information is interpreted. This occurs in every body every moment of the day. The body is constantly bombarded with an array of sensory information. To participate effectively in daily life activities, we need our sensory systems to be integrated and “working together” to give us information about our body, how to use our body, how to interact with others, and how to interact with the world around us. The ability to efficiently process sensory information impacts all of our daily life activities.

Every child (and adult) processes information differently. Therefore, each child can have a different response to the same situation, and/or stimuli. As a result, each child will develop different abilities based on those experiences. When a child is not able to efficiently and accurately process information, then he may have difficulty with attention, behavior, handwriting, play skills, social skills, fine motor and gross motor skills, oral motor/feeding skills, and/or self-help skills.

There are a variety of ways that sensory processing concerns can manifest themselves. Many terms are used to describe behaviors seen in children with sensory processing disorders. We have chosen to use the following to describe the various types of “sensory kids” that we see:

● Sensory Avoiders ● Sensory Seekers ● Under Responsive ● Coordination Disorders

Often children exhibit behaviors in more than one of these areas. Regardless of the terms used to describe a child, if he displays any signs or symptoms of poor sensory processing, he is not accurately processing sensory information.

If a child is a Sensory Avoider (also called sensory sensitive, over responsive, or hypersensitive), then a multitude of sensations, or any single sensation, may be overwhelming to the child. He may be sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste and/or movement, causing him to avoid these sensations. This can result in a variety of maladaptive behaviors, including distractibility, irritability, non-compliance, and/or aggression.

If a child is a Sensory Seeker then he may require more intense sensory input, which may cause the child to seek out a variety of stimuli. His body constantly needs more input, so he will seek out sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste and/or movement. This child may be more active and engage in rough play. He may constantly touch people and objects, mouth objects, and demonstrate increased distractibility.

A child can also be Under Responsive to sensation (also called hyposensitive, low arousal, or poor registration) which indicates he may not be registering sensory information. This child may not respond to pain, does not notice when being touched, may be lethargic and withdrawn or may not attend to important environmental information (sights, sounds, touch).

If a child has a Coordination Disorder (poor timing, sequencing, and coordination) related to an inability to process information from the body senses, then he may be clumsy, awkward and unable to successfully complete motor tasks.

If you have concerns that your child might be impacted by Sensory Processing Disorder and would like to learn more, please call our office at 636-928-LEAP(5327) or click the link below to get started.


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