Sensory Processing in a Tiny Nutshell

In a tiny nutshell, when the body’s sensory processing systems are not functioning at an ideal level, either the senses are delivering information that may not be accurate, or the sensory information received are not processed accurately. Imagine how traffic flows in a major city – sensory information can be likened cars that get lost along the way, never getting to their intended destination. These cars can get gridlocked in rush hour traffic, and arriving at their intended destination late, or preventing other cars from getting to other parts of the city.

Like how traffic flow in a city ebbs and flows, children who have sensory integrative issues often fluctuate in their ability to attend to tasks, respond to instructions and carry out their daily lives smoothly. On “good days”, they are able to process the multitude of information around them. On “bad days”, they melt down over seemingly easy tasks or are unable to pay attention to relevant information.

Sensory processing dysfunction can be a result of a breakdown in the three processes of sensory integration:

Taking in information through the senses.

The child who has difficulties in this area may not respond to sensory stimulus in the same way as same aged peers. The sensory system may be hypersensitive, and the child feels overwhelmed even with “normal” stimuli. This may trigger a flight, fight or freeze response, and these children are often viewed as being temperamental, fussy or may shut down.

The sensory system may also be hyposensitive, and need a greater level of sensory input compared to peers. This child may be constantly on the move to seek sensory stimuli to satisfy the sensory system. As their bodies do not receive the appropriate level of feedback from the environment, they can also appear clumsy and uncoordinated.

Often, children with difficulties in this stage of sensory integration have fluctuating responses to sensory input. The nervous system is in flux and has difficulty maintain an appropriate level of calm response. These children can vary quickly in mood through the day and are very sensitive to their environments.

Putting the information together with other information.

It is hypothesized that children with disorders in this process of sensory integration have poor modulation abilities or poor praxis abilities. What this means is that these children often have difficulty maintaining an age appropriate level of arousal and attention and often struggle to stay calm.

Children having difficulties with praxis often struggle with coordination and learning new motor skills. They may also appear disorganized, and have difficulties organizing themselves and their environments.

Making a meaningful motor, language, behavioral, emotional response.

These three processes are intimately linked, and inefficient processing in one area has a domino effect on the functioning of the brain. Hence, an evaluation by a qualified Occupational Therapist is essential to determine how a child may perform their daily tasks smoothly.

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