Children with learning and behavioural challenges typically have difficulty processing information received through the senses. When a child finds it difficult to process sensory information this can impact on their ability to complete everyday activities, attend and stay focussed, develop impulse control and learn new information.
The great news is that the brain has a marvellous ability to reprogram and reorganise its structure in response to what is experienced. This is referred to as “re-wiring” of the brain. The even better news is that you can help your child with this re-wiring at home through play.
Life is a multi-sensory experience which can be best fostered through movement and play in the natural world. The interaction between a child and the natural environment promotes the development and organisation of the seven sensory systems.
What are our 7 senses?
- Auditory (hearing)
- Tactile (touch)
- Olfactory (smell)
- Gustatory (taste)
- Vestibular (movement)
- Proprioception (body awareness)
What is sensory processing?
Sensory Processing is the ability to effectively process information from the environment through our seven senses. Our senses are the tools we use to perceive the world around us. We live in a world in which we are continually bombarded with sensory input; noises, sights, smells; and for most people the integration of this sensory information happens unconsciously. The information we collect from our environment through our senses is sent to our brain to be processed. If our brain cannot modulate the information appropriately, we will fail to develop an accurate and meaningful representation of our experiences, which will result in inappropriate behavioural and emotional responses. The integration of sensory information is fundamental for higher level cognitive processes and learning.
What types of sensory processing disorders are there?
Sensory processing problems are highly variable, however there are three main subtypes which can help explain certain behaviours in children. These categories are:
Sensory Modulation Disorder: Difficulty matching behavioural and emotional responses to sensory stimuli. A child may be over sensitive to sensory information, under sensitive to sensory information or sensory seeking (craves intense sensory input such as movement or touch).
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder: Difficulty with planning movements, balance and coordination.
Sensory Discrimination Disorder: Difficulty detecting similarities and differences between sensations.
When do sensory processing difficulties become a problem?
Sensory processing difficulties become an issue when they consistently interfere with a child’s participation and performance in daily life activities.
What can I do if my child has difficulty processing sensory information?
A child’s sensory systems can develop by spending more time touching, tasting, smelling, listening and moving through nature. Nature provides children with the ultimate sensory playground. Behavioural symptoms can significantly be reduced by actively engaging a child in meaningful activities that provide intensity, duration and quality of sensation that the central nervous system requires to function effectively.
These are the basic guidelines for children with sensory modulation disorders
Under Responders: For the children who under respond to sensory input and seem to watch the world go by it is important to enhance task features, increase contrast of stimuli and reduce the predictability of routines to enable them to notice more and respond to sensory information.
Over Responders: For the children who over respond to a little bit of sensory input it is important to avoid exposure to unpleasant experiences. The goal is to gradually increase the child’s ability to tolerate the certain sensory input in a controlled environment.
Seekers: For the children who seek out sensation it is important to “feed the need”. The goal is to provide the child with the sensory input they are seeking in socially appropriate ways prior to learning, so that they can stay alert, calm and focussed during a task.