Sensory Processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into responses. For children or adults with difficulties with sensory processing, the way they perceive and / or respond to information coming in through their senses, is different to most other people. Sensory information may be perceived more strongly (over responsive) or not as strongly (under responsive).
Different impacts – Different children
For some children, these differences may only occur for a few of types of sensory input: for example they go to the beach and when the sand starts to stick to the body, the feeling it gives them is very distressing. For others it may happen across multiple sensory systems. Here is an example: the brightness of the light on the beach hurts their eyes, the noise of the waves is too loud, the soft sand moves under their feet when they step and that makes them feel unsafe, having sunscreen rubbed on their skin hurts them. This over responsiveness to the sensory input their body is getting, makes for a very distressing time for the child and their family, instead of the fun morning at the beach they were hoping for.
For another child, they may not pick up on some sensations as much. For them, tuning into information may be harder, or when they have to sit still, it can be hard for them to keep up the alertness they need to keep participating. They may wiggle in their seat to help their body get the sensory information it needs to keep it alert, or slump across their desk because they haven’t got this. Some children seek out more sensory information through sucking or chewing on objects, or through lots of touching of things, or movement.
As a parent, you may feel confused and unsure of what to do when your child responds differently in seemingly normal situations.
Sensory Processing differences are unique in how they present for each child. When the problems a child is experiencing, start to impact on daily life, it is important to get help. Getting help involves identifying the child’s unique sensory processing patterns and then developing strategies to help the child manage their differences so they can continue to participate.