Sensory Processing is the way in which our nervous systems receives sensory information and generates a response to this information. The majority of people are born with the ability to effortlessly receive sensory information and generate the appropriate behavioural and physiological responses. For other people, it can be difficult to process incoming sensory information and results in challenges generating appropriate responses to the information.
Commonly, when discussing sensory needs, we speak broadly of three sensory categories. These are:
Sensory Over-Responsivity: This is where the individual is overly sensitive to sensory information, i.e. touch or sound, and can respond more intensely and faster to the sensory information for a longer duration. An example is an individual becoming upset when accidentally brushed against whilst waiting in line.
Sensory Under-Responsivity: Individuals show less of a response to sensory information than would be expected and require longer to respond to the sensory information. They often require more intense sensory input before they respond, i.e. they require louder sounds or a stronger touch. A common trait of Sensory Under-Responsivity is having a high pain threshold.
Sensory Seeking: Sensory Seeking individuals have intense cravings for sensory input and will actively seek it, this often manifests in ways that are not appropriate to the situation or environment. A common trait is a desire for firm pressure to be applied to their body.
When working with an individual with Sensory Processing needs, an Occupational Therapist will speak with the individual as well as those around them to gather as much information as possible. They will also typically complete the Sensory Profile assessment. This assessment generates a sensory profile on the individual which is used to begin developing and trialling strategies and equipment to assist the individual to fulfil their sensory needs and minimise challenging behaviours as a result of these needs not being met.
These strategies are most successful when a collaborative approach is utilised and are implemented across the individuals environments, this includes at home, in clinic and at school or care facilities.