Many of us have heard about sensory processing and self-regulation, but few of us really know what that means. In this article, we’ll break it down for you so you can have a better understanding of what Sensory Processing and Self-Regulation means, and why it’s important for development.
What is Sensory Processing?
Our favourite description of sensory processing comes from Tina Champagne, a renown Occupational Therapist. Her description is below.
“Sensory processing refers to our ability to take in information through our senses (touch, movement/balance, smell, taste, vision, and hearing), organize and interpret that information, and make a meaningful response”
We all have sensory processing differences; think about sounds, food textures, smells, or the feel of fabrics or gooey substances. Differences are good and normal! Where this becomes a problem is when these differences or challenges interfere with our daily activities – that’s when we might need some support.
There are eight (yes – eight!) known senses that send information about our external and internal environments to our brain for decoding, integration, and output generation – sensory processing.
The 5 Common senses:
- Touch (light touch and deep pressure
AND the “hidden senses”:
What Does Ineffective Sensory Processing Look Like?
(photo credit: the sensoryspectrum.com)
These responses may be environment-specific, based on external or internal sensory input (messages coming from outside or inside your child’s body). Your child may function well in some contexts and really struggle in others.
Depending on a child’s unique sensory processing patterns, neurological threshold, and regulation habits, a stress response from an irritating sensory stimulus may elicit unwanted behaviours from the child to stop the stimulation or escape from the offending input.
This is where regulation comes in.
Depending on your child’s unique brain function, sensory input might be too much or too little for self-regulation. Some kids avoid sensory stimulation and are hypersensitive to sounds, touch, visual stimulation, taste, and moment. Others might crave input through all of those senses and run, bounce, climb, hum, fidget, or find other ways to give a hypersensitive brain the input it needs to stay regulated.
This impacts sleep, classroom learning, family life, social participation, and community engagement – almost every area in a child’s life!
In addition to making your child’s world much more comfortable to inhabit, addressing sensory processing early is important because research ties unresolved sensory processing challenges to future work stress, poor academic performance in higher education, and the development of anxiety-based disorders as an adult – this is important for your child’s healthy development!
How Do We Know What Sensory Support Our Child Needs?
Our Occupational Therapists are uniquely trained to assess and treat sensory processing challenges in children. Occupational Therapists can provide effective, practical, evidence-based intervention that can help your child deal with stressful sensory input or find ways to help them get the input they need during the day to stay regulated and in control.
How can Oona help?
If your child is having challenges with sensory processing and regulation, Occupational Therapy can help. We offer various treatment packages, including a Sensory and Self-Regulation Assessment and Individualized Plan. Give us a call or book online – we’re here to help!