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What Is Sensory Input?

And why is it so important…?

We all learnt about the five senses at school:

  • Visual system (sight) – we receive sensory messages through our eyes, such as colour, shape, amount of light and motion.
  • Auditory system (hearing) – sounds such as music, language, background noise are all transmitted as soundwaves into our ears.
  • Olfactory system (smell) – Our nose contains the olfactory bulb which transmits information to the brain about any odours we encounter, such as food, flowers, smoke.
  • Tactile system (touch) – the skin all over our body contains touch receptors that transmit information to our brain. The receptors alert our brain when there is a change in temperature, feeling of pain, or any contact with the environment, from a gentle breeze on the skin to hard pressure on the body.
  • Gustatory system (taste) – the taste of food that we eat (sweet, salty, spicy) is transmitted via the tongue and is there to help us discriminate between safe and harmful foods.

These five senses continually provide messages to our brains – this is happening within all of us, all of the time. However, there are two other types of sensory processing systems that you may not be familiar with:

Proprioceptive system – this involves being aware of the position and movement of your body within the surroundings. For example, recognising when you have walked from a hard surface such as concrete to a soft surface such as grass, without looking down, or being able to raise a spoon full of food to your mouth to eat without having to look at your hand while doing so. If this system does not function correctly, you may see traits such as:

  • Tiring easily
  • Using too much force and breaking things
  • Uncoordinated movements, kicking a ball too hard or too soft
  • Poor hand and eye coordination

    Vestibular system – this system is located within the inner ear and is related to balance and spatial orientation of the head. It help keeps us upright and control our movements. If this system does not function correctly, you may see traits such as:
  • Loses balance easily
  • Has trouble staying focussed (ie in class)
  • Poor eye movement, eg ball tracking, reading
  • Bumps into things and falls over objects regularly

All 7 sensory processing systems within our body are intrinsically linked.

People with conditions such as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may process the sensory information received by these 7 systems differently to others.

For example, they may have what seems to be an extreme response to some sounds or light (hypersensitivity), or may not respond to pain (hyposensitivity).

Children who have issues with sensory processing may seek out extra sensory input (sensory seeking). This may look like:

  • Pushing their body against others or against walls
  • Seems to be always moving
  • Enjoys noisy places and makes loud noises themselves
  • May constantly fidget or need to do something with their hands
  • Prefers strong tasting foods – hot, spicy, salty
  • Enjoys visually stimulating environments – light shows, spinning objects

Others may be overly responsive to sensory input (sensory avoider):

  • Dislikes noisy places and bright lights
  • Doesn’t like touching messy things – slime, dirt, food
  • Prefers bland food types
  • Irritated by certain clothing materials
  • Dislikes haircuts, cutting fingernails
  • Avoids playing on swings and slides

Many people will be a combination of both sensory seeker and
sensory avoider in different circumstances.

For children who have issues with sensory input, there are a range of different products that can help to provide sensory input and have calming effects when needed. But how do you know which tools will work for you child?

The Sensory Street Ready Made Sensory Boxes are an excellent way of trying out different sensory toys to find out which tools your child responds to. Do they like the squishy sensation of the water orbs ball or the mesmerising flow of the ooze tubes as the gel slowly makes its way down to the bottom. The Sensory boxes make an excellent addition to a sensory room or calm corner at home or in the kindergarten/classroom environment.

If you would prefer something more portable, our Sensory Bags are handy to take with you anywhere. You can choose one of our Ready Made Sensory Bags, or select the sensory tools you want and Create Your Own. They make a great classroom resource for those children who need some extra help to sit still and focus. Our favourite products for this purpose are the Sensory Genius Pencil Pushers and Stretchy Strings. When the hands are busy, the mind can focus.

We have a huge range of sensory tools for you to choose from, for all ages, from young children to teenagers and adults. The Kaiko range of fidgets are popular with older children and adults and are perfect for helping to improve focus and reduce anxiety/stress.

It can be difficult to determine whether a child at a young age is having trouble with sensory processing issues or simply developing at their own pace. If you have any concerns about your child’s development you should speak with your GP or paediatrician.

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