Sensory processing is the manner in which we interpret our environment through sensory information. We gather sensory information in the following ways:
- Tactile (touch) - what does it feel like?
- Auditory (hear) - what does it sound like?
- Visual (look) - what does it look like?
- Olfactory (smell) - what does it smell like?
- Gustatory (taste) - what does it taste like?
- Vestibular (position and movement) - e.g. bouncing on a trampoline - what movement is happening?
- Proprioception (joint and muscle sensation) - e.g. lifting weights - where is the weight in relation to my body? is it too heavy?
The body receives a sensation via the above means, the brain works out what is happening, the brain then sends a message to respond and finally, the person responds.
Everybody's sensory system is slightly different. Some people might avoid certain sensory information (e.g. auditory information - they will avoid loud noise), whereas some will crave certain sensory information (e.g. vestibular information - they will move constantly and might be seen running, bouncing, tapping throughout the day).
Some children and adults might require help in regulating their sensory system as they are finding it difficult to do this themselves.
Changes to the environment, providing ways to access sensory information in different environments and carrying out a therapy programme might be necessary to help to regulate an individual's sensory system.
How we can help
As Speech and Language Therapists, we can get to know a person's sensory needs through observation, liaison and assessment and provide recommendations on how to help to regulate their sensory system.
Some Occupational Therapists are trained in 'Sensory Integration'. If so, these therapists can fully assess an individual's sensory needs and provide recommendations on how to help to regulate their sensory system.