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Sensory Processing

The brain is the control hub of all we do.


Sometimes the brain has some trouble organizing and responding to information from our environment. Certain sounds, sights, smells, textures, and tastes can create a feeling of “sensory overload.” Bright or flickering lights, loud noises, certain textures of food, and scratchy clothing are just some of the triggers that can make us feel overwhelmed and upset.


There are two types of sensory processing challenges:

Over-sensitivity which leads to sensory avoidance.

Under-sensitivity which leads to sensory seeking.


Let's look at a day in the life of a child with Sensory Processing Challenges:

6:14 a.m.

The sunlight coming through Olivia’s curtains wakes her up before her alarm. The light is bright and irritating. Olivia hides under the blankets. But she worries that if she falls back asleep, the loud beeping of her alarm clock will surprise her. She waits and turns it off a minute before the alarm goes off so she doesn’t have to deal with the noise.

Challenges: Sensitivity to sound and sight

7 a.m.

Olivia puts on the clothes she picked out the night before. But the tags are too itchy. She insists on wearing her favorite soft T-shirt and leggings even though they’re dirty. At breakfast, Olivia wants the milk in a cup so she can pour it on her cereal a little at a time. Otherwise the flakes will get soggy and feel gross in her mouth.

Challenges: Sensitivity to clothing and food textures

7:30 a.m.

Olivia needs to get to the bus stop on time, but she’s struggling to put on her coat and tie her shoes. She kind of hopes she’ll miss the bus. It’s always so loud and crowded, and it’s hard to find a seat where she won’t feel squished by other kids.

Challenges: Trouble with motor skills, sensitivity to touch

10 a.m.

Olivia loves writing stories in school. But she keeps getting distracted when she sees other students walking down the hallway. She’s also feeling out of sorts and is having trouble staying in her seat. She asks her teacher if she can move to a desk away from the classroom door and put a wiggle cushion on her chair.

Challenges: Sensitivity to sight, sensory-seeking

Noon

At lunchtime, the teacher doesn’t understand why Olivia won’t go into the cafeteria. The smell of meatball sandwiches doesn’t bother the teacher or the other kids. But Olivia gets overwhelmed by it—and by trying to explain why she can’t go in. She has a meltdown and ends up eating in the school office after she calms down.

Challenges: Sensitivity to smell, trouble controlling emotions

4 p.m.

At the playground, Olivia has fun climbing and jumping off the equipment and running around with her friends. She also loves doing somersaults on the grass. All that tumbling makes her feel calmer. When someone points out that her knee is scraped and bleeding, Olivia remembers that she fell down. But at the time it didn’t hurt, so she kept playing.

Challenges: Seeking out sensations, being less sensitive to pain

6 p.m.

It’s taco night, but Olivia doesn’t like mixing all those textures and tastes. She keeps her favorite ingredients in different sections of her plate so she can eat them separately. When Mom tries to make her eat some refried beans, Olivia protests—she says mushy food makes her gag.

Challenges: Sensitivity to taste and food textures

7:30 p.m.

Olivia keeps standing outside the shower because the water temperature isn’t right. Mom says it’s fine, but it feels too hot to Olivia. Plus, it’s a hair-washing night. That means slimy shampoo and painful combing afterward. Olivia starts to get upset, but she calms down when Mom says she can skip shampooing. She dries off using the fluffy towel she likes. Having toothpaste that isn’t “too spicy” also helps bedtime go more smoothly.

Challenges: Sensitivity to touch (including gauging hot and cold) How can Neurofeedback help? The central region of the brain is named the Sensory-Motor Strip as this is the area in which all sensory input is assimilated and processed to be sent to the various other regions of the brain for action. Any dysregulation in this area will result in difficulty interpreting and understanding sensory information. This same area of the brain is also associated with concentration and the application of learning, which is why sensory processing difficulties often go hand in hand with concentration and learning challenges. Once this area of the brain is regulated it becomes infinitely easier for us to make sense of the world around us! For more information and resources on Sensory Processing Disorder please visit Understood.org

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