Sensory processing is the way the nervous system takes in information from our senses, processing this and then turning it into a response.

The response can be behavioral or physiological. It is when the information is not processed or perceived correctly or the response is not appropriate that we have sensory processing difficulties. So sensory processing is an unconscious part of the brain, it allows us to protect ourselves in a dangerous situation.

There are 7 different sensory systems that the body has. These are:

1. Tactile

2. Taste

3. Visual

4. Hearing

5. Smell

6. Vestibular system (movement and balance)

7.Proprioception (feedback from muscles and joints; deep pressure; knowing where the body is in space and relation to other body parts).

What do you think of when you hear the words- behavioral child, movement seeking, loud noises, anxiety, picky eater or toe walking? These words can be associated with sensory processing difficulties. Think about yourselves, everyone has specific little funny traits and characteristics- some of mine include loving the touch of satin, its calming. I enjoy light touch, especially when it is soft. I like soft clothing, as a child I could never wear tight clothes. Does it impact on my day to day life? Do I have a meltdown if I don’t wear soft clothing? Well, not always. But as a child, little ones can’t regulate their emotions so this will commonly look like a behavioral outburst, tiredness or defiance. We as adults, parents, teachers, educators have to be a detective to work out what happened before the behavior, was there a trigger?

Now some of you may be thinking, how can we tell the difference between personality, habit, whether it’s a behavioral issue or actually sensory processing related? This can be really tricky! OT’s can do standardised and informal assessments to determine the extent of the child’s sensory processing needs or the sensory profile. Each child has a sensory profile that is unique to only him or her. So we can work out what level of sensory processing difficulties someone has.   Parents, carers and teachers can provide us with a wealth of information on what happens at home and school, as well as ‘out and about’ which can help piece the puzzle together. Sensory processing difficulties are common and strategies to manage them are very effective.  The thing to remember is we are all unique and have different likes and dislikes compared to one another.  This is very normal. When children have difficulty processing their environment in regard to any of the above 7 sensory systems, and managing their emotions, that is a good time to seek some additional support.  Sometimes sensory processing difficulty can be very subtle, and you might not know that is the cause, rather feeling instead like the child is being ‘naughty’! If you are worried about anything, feel free to make contact with us.  We are available on the phone 02 6925 0157 or via email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Abbey Philpott

Occupational Therapist