This is a great activity for a child’s sensory development! Take a nature walk and see how many of the following you can gather: dirt, sand, grass, pebbles, pinecones, sticks, flowers, leaves, and bark.
Have you ever experienced being car sick? Felt nauseous after smelling something gross? Cringed or covered your ears when a fire alarm goes off? These are all a result of sensory processing.
Sensory processing is how our body organizes sensory experiences.
We receive sensory input through
· Proprioception (Our sense of body position in relation to our surroundings)
· Vestibular sense (Our sense of movement)
· Interoception (Our sense of inner bodily functions such as needing to go to the bathroom or experiencing stress)
We perceive these experiences through our nervous system and respond to it. Although we all have a nervous system, each person’s is slightly different. Think of our senses as cups: when each cup is filled to the brim we are in equilibrium and feel at ease. If our cups are overflowing or too low, we experience discomfort, or stress. Some people have small cups, large cups, or both.
For example, I have a small sound cup. I find myself turning the radio down in other people’s cars, and it’s very difficult for me to sleep when sounds other than white noise are present, such as cars or trains, and I take earplugs with me when I travel. I have a large taste cup. I like foods with very strong flavors and enjoy spicy foods and trying new things.
Many of us have learned how to appropriately adapt to our sensory experiences to bring our cups to the brim. Many children are still learning this skill. Some kids have a hard time registering that the input is coming at them, some avoid input, some seek input, and some are very sensitive to input. You can even have a mixture!
Sometimes sensory difficulties interfere with children’s daily activities. For example, eating or touching certain foods, wearing certain textures, clumsiness, or the inability to tell how rough they are playing. It may cause them to either make a lot of sounds or have meltdowns around loud noises. These inappropriate responses are their attempts to reach equilibrium in their sensory cups.
Occupational therapists assess a child’s sensory processing needs and create goals and treatment to improve that child’s functioning in everyday life. This may include a “sensory diet”, which involves individualized sensory activities that can be done in therapy, at home, or at school. Depending on their strengths and weaknesses, it may also include teaching the child how to understand their needs and regulate their system on their own. Occupational therapy can also include adapting their environment when possible to make sensory regulation easier for them.
We all have different sensory needs, but when they get in the way of participating in everyday activities such as eating, dressing, playing, or learning, occupational therapy can help. If you think your child has difficulties with sensory processing, you can schedule an evaluation or free consultation at Breaking Barriers Therapy Services in Saratoga Springs at (801) 987-6333.