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What is Sensory?

Sensory integration is the process by which we receive information through our senses, organize this information, and use it to participate in everyday activities. Most people are familiar with five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. However, we also receive input through two additional senses:

The vestibular sense, or movement and balance sense, gives us information about where our head and body are in space. It allows us to stay upright while we sit, stand, and walk.

Proprioception, or body awareness sense, tells us where our body parts are relative to each other. It also gives us information about how much force to use in certain activities, allowing us to crack open an egg without crushing it in our hands.

Why is sensory processing important?

Sensory experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight, sound, smell, taste and the pull of gravity. The brain’s ability to organize, interpret and respond to this information in an appropriate way is called Sensory Integration.  Using this information enables us to feel safe and secure, to direct and sustain our attention, to move without fear, and to use our bodies automatically to perform the tasks that are required throughout our daily routine. Sensory Integration (SI) provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behavior.

Sensory Processing Challenges

Some kids seem to have difficulty handling all the information they take in through their senses which can cause them to respond differently or over/under react to sensory stimulation. 

 Over-sensitive responses may look like this:

  • Unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises like sirens or school intercoms
  • Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or irritating-even after cutting out all the tags and labels-or shoes because they feel “too tight.”
  • Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear (lights buzzing)
  • Be fearful of surprise touch, and avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Often have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people
  • Bump into people and things and appear clumsy
  • Have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying; (ex: they may rip paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam down objects)
  • Run off, or bolt, when they’re overwhelmed to get away from whatever is distressing them
  • Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed

Under-sensitive kids want to seek out more sensory stimulation and look like this:

  • Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable
  • Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it
  • Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
  • Not understand their own strength
  • Be very fidgety and unable to sit still; seeks movement
  • Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
  • Likes deep pressure such as tight bear hugs or wearing a backpack, heavy coat or weight blanket
  • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement

Try some of these calming sensory ideas to calm down

  • Wall push ups or chair push ups
  • Carrying a stack of books
  • Pushing a laundry basket full of toys
  • Tug of war
  • Animal Walks (crab or bear walks)
  • Yoga
  • Deep breathing
  • Stress toys (squeeze balls, pull tubes)
  • Drinking from a cup with a straw
  • A calm-down station or corner
  • Wrapping up in a blanket
  • Pillow sandwiches

Try some of these ideas to alert

  • Jumping 
  • Skipping
  • Trampoline
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
  • Icy drink
  • Clapping games
  • Spinning on a swing
  • Dancing 
  • Brain Breaks
  • Playing catch