For most of us, sensory processing occurs automatically and unconsciously without any effort. Sensory processing differences / difficulties occur when there are issues in the processing and organising of sensory information. When this happens, the world can be perceived very differently.
People with sensory processing differences / difficulties can present in quite a contrast to one another. Some can be ‘over sensitive’ to sensory information and will often aim to avoid certain sensory inputs. Others can be ‘under sensitive’ and will seek more sensory information to help them make sense of their world. There are also those who can appear to be both under and over sensitive at times. This indicates that they have difficulties with what is called ‘modulation’.
A broad range of children and young people are known to experience sensory processing difficulties. This includes those who have no other known additional needs, to those with a range of learning needs and those who have severe neurological impairments. A high number of children and young people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have additional sensory processing differences / difficulties. This is recognised when a clinician carries out an assessment for Autism, as the DSM-V lists sensory processing difficulty as part of the criteria of traits and behaviours that may be apparent.
Sensory needs are also experienced by some children and young people who have attachment difficulties. When there are difficulties in interactions between an infant and their caregiver, the development of pathways within their brain that make sense of their experiences can become hindered. Children can subsequently struggle to tune into the messages their body is giving them. For example, if an infant has had limited touch through cradling, then the development of neurological pathways regarding the sense of touch may become impacted and the body’s way of understanding touch can be affected.
Our senses are very complex. Things may not always be as they seem, so making accurate judgements takes time. Individuals may appear to have sensory processing needs but the reality is that other underlying causes that best explain their difficulties. For example, children who have hypermobile joints often seek excessive movement to give them better feedback about where their bodies are and how they are move. They are therefore usually constantly fidgeting and ‘on the go’, which is due to their hypermobility rather than any sensory processing issue. Hypermobility means your joints are more flexible than other people’s, you may think of yourself as being double jointed. When this causes pain, it maybe joint hypermobility syndrome. (NHS).
Additionally, children may appear to be ‘sensory seeking’ when in fact they are ‘sensory avoiding’. For example, if the stimulations in the classroom are overwhelming their visual or auditory ability, they may appear restless and overly active. Children may also have a threshold for stimulation and will not register low to medium stimulation. These children will need high stimulation to learn new things. They will often appear to be very involved in small groups when the teacher ensures they follow by altering their tone for example. They are likely to get lost in the classroom as the stimulation is too much for them and they are working to avoid it. The profile of needs can often look very complex.
For further information and training on sensory processing please feel free to use CYPTS training videos below for both schools and parents.