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Home > Sensory Processing Disorders > Sensory Processing

Sensory Processing

Sensory Processing

What is Sensory Processing? The ability of the BRAIN to take in sensations (vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile, auditory, visual, olfactory, and taste) and make sense of those sensations so that the brain and body can function normally. 

Sensations come into the brain along many different sensory channels and the brain must be able to channel and send those to the right places in order to function properly.

Signs of Sensory Processing Issues:  

1. Observation: Can be done by anyone but is reported most accurately by those who work most closely with the individual, and is just merely watching the individual and being able to report how they react to different sensations, different environments, and their behaviors in their day to day activities.  We often use a standardized assessment called the Sensory Profile to gain this information or a lengthy parent questionnaire is sent with the OT evaluation packet to gain information on daily life issues with sensory processing.  

2. Evaluation: Done by an Occupational Therapist using clinical observations, report from caregivers, and play observations as well as a specific evaluation tools.   The evaluation will assist the O.T. in making a clinical judgement as to whether the individual has a sensory processing disorder and where to begin treatment.

Typical Sensory Processing Disorder Behaviors:

* Attention Problems

* Difficulty maintaining an alert but relaxed state- hyperactivity or decreased activity

* Avoidance of touch or movement

* Self-stimulation- especially if it is persistent and interferes with function

* Self injurious behaviors

* Difficulty with transitions from one place or one activity to another

* Unpredictable explosions of emotions

* Impaired learning


How do sensory processing disorders/problems impair an individual?

  • Imagine if you were so sensitive to touch that it felt like a needle or a knife stabbing you whenever anything touched your skin? What if sounds such as the AC or heater coming on sounded like a freight train? What if you couldn't feel your joints and felt like your body parts were floating around? What if you became sick anytime you moved or what if you never got to walk and craved to move your body? What if you had to bang your head, arm, leg, or bite it to even know that it was part of your body?

  • If your brain was constantly on the defensive, trying to avoid or seek certain types of input, then it causes great stress and makes it IMPOSSIBLE to let the brain function normally.

  • The brain in individuals who have sensory processing problems is functioning on a much different level- it is focused on PROTECTING the body and just keeping the body alive and safe , therefore it cannot go to the next step and do higher functions such as: learning, social interactions, self awareness, differentiating people versus objects, expressing preferences and wants, varying moods, self-care, vocational activities, play and leisure activities, and complex interactions and behaviors.  See the Feeding the Brain Pyramid on the home page for a visual!  


What can happen if we treat their sensory needs?

* Improved motor planning, development of skills

* Decreased need to stimulate or injure self or others

* Improved ability to pay attention, participate, and learn

* Increased learning of self-care, work, and leisure activities= INCREASED INDEPENDENCE

* Improved social interaction

* Decreased fear and anxiety

* Improved communication of wants and needs

* Improved ability to handle distractions and transitions

* More able to have fun and engage in the world around them

* Improved ability to take advantage of their environment, make choices, integrate into the community, and enjoy life more!


So how do we treat sensory processing disorders?

  • The only way that treatment can be successful is if the family carries out therapy activities in the home daily and understands their child's unique neurological needs.  

  • The treatment for sensory processing problems is a very precise process and requires a lot of dedication and an open mind!

  • Each individual will be given a set of recommendations after they are evaluated and some may need a very precise treatment for their individual issues.  


Sensory Processing Definitions and Precautions:


  • Power Sensations: The sensations that influence the brain stem and are the "engine" for our nervous system, these power sensations also have a longer lasting effect on neuro-transmitter levels such as Serotonin and Dopamine. 

  • Vestibular Sensations: Picked up by the movement of our head in space by the vestibular apparatus in each inner ear. Tells the brain if we are moving, surrounded by something that is moving, on something that is moving, or a combination of the three.  Can last for up to 12 hours!

  • Proprioceptive Sensations: The receptors in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround our joints give us this sensation. They tell the brain where our body parts are and what they are doing without even looking!  Can last for up to 2 hours!

  • Tactile sensations: The receptors are in our skin and react when we are touched or touched by something (even your clothing, your own leg touching the other, and something as light as a fan blowing on your skin can set off these sensitive guys!). Helps our brain know what is me and what is not me.  Can last for up to 2 hours. 

    * There are 2 different touch systems which set off two different sensations! 

Light Touch is a protective and arousing, and can cause a release of stress hormones. 

Deep Pressure is calming and helps with awareness of body in space.  

See your OT for more info or check out:  and


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