Sensory Processing Simplified
What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory Processing is our brain’s ability to take in, make sense of, and react to different kinds of sensations.
A balance between habituation and sensitization is required for a person to appropriately respond to sensory information.
Habituation is our brain’s ability to recognize familiar sensations that do not require additional attention. For example, after a little while, we no longer consciously feel the sensation of our clothes on our skin. This is because our brain has decided that we do not need to react to that sensory information – it is not deemed important, so we ignore it.
Sensitization is the opposite. This is an enhanced awareness of important sensory information. For example, when we smell smoke our brain identifies this as important, and tells us that we need to respond.
What do Sensory Processing Difficulties look like?
All people have what is called a Neurological Threshold. This means the amount of sensory stimulation our brain needs to form a reaction. The general population have a mid-range threshold. We may be a little sensitive or insensitive to certain things, but nothing major. This is not the case for people with sensory processing difficulties. People with sensory processing difficulties often have a high, or low neurological threshold.
A High Neurological Threshold means you need a lot of sensory stimulation for your brain to notice and initiate a response.
A Low Neurological Threshold means you only need a small amount of sensory stimulation for your brain to notice and initiate a response.
As well as different neurological thresholds, people with sensory processing difficulties often have different behavioural responses to sensory information. They will generally be Hyper or Hypo Responsive to sensations.
Hyper-Responsive – Extreme responses to sensory information
Hypo-Responsive – Weakened/ Limited responses to sensory information
– by Rachel Tosh
Rachel is a Certified Practicing Speech Pathologist (CPSP) with a wide variety of clinical experience in inpatient and outpatient paediatric care in both Australia and the UK which enables her to translate theory into real life application across diverse clinical contexts. Her latest adventure, Speech Parent is changing the face of paediatric speech pathology internationally by empowering and educating parents of children with communication and feeding difficulties. She describes herself as a recovering work-a-holic (we all know she isn’t actually recovering – seriously who else sends emails at 4:30am!?). Rachel is passionate about: business leadership; literacy and feeding difficulties; educating and empowering others; and optimising therapy outcomes. Although these interests may seem diverse, the recurring theme through them all is a love for facilitating growth and development in others so they can achieve their own unique potential. Things I like: “Lamb roast, reading, helping others and creating systems that work…I may or may not enjoy these together!” Things I don’t like: “People not respecting each other and children missing out because of bad care or broken systems.” Favourite colour: “Can I have the whole rainbow?” How the TAG team describe Rachel: “Passionate”; “Hard working”; “Creative”.
“Be there for others but never leave yourself behind” -Dodinski