Sensory processing is the brain’s ability to take information from our senses to explain the world around us.


What is sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing disorder/difficulty is when someone has trouble interpreting, organizing, and/or filtering information from the senses. Some may have strong reactions to sensation, while others may not notice the sensory input at all. There are varying levels of tolerance to sensory input from system to system. 

8 main sensory systems include:

  • Sight (Visual)   
  • Touch (Tactile)    
  • Taste (Gustatory)         
  • Smell (Olfactory)
  • Hearing (Auditory)
  • Proprioception
  • Vestibular (Balance)
  • Introception (Info from our organs such as cold, hungry, tired, restroom needs)

Should I have my child evaluated for a sensory processing disorder?

Did you know 1 in 6 children experience sensory processing difficulties that interfere with everyday functioning? While all children can seem quirky or particular about their likes and dislikes, children with Sensory Processing Disorder will be so severely affected by their sensory preferences that it interferes with their normal, everyday functioning.

“When assessing and treating children with sensory processing difficulties, our team of occupational therapists’ goal is to help the families manage day-to-day activities with greater ease and less stress,” said Mindy Muhlenkamp, OTR/L, Pediatric OT Director. “They will engage kids in fun physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input, to make them feel more comfortable, secure, and able to focus. In addition to helping the children work through their sensory processing difficulties, the therapist will also provide education to families on sensory processing and how to manage it in the home environment.”


There are two many types of sensory processing disorders that children and adults experience, usually defined as either: Hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli or Hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to sensory stimuli. 


Signs of sensory processing hyper-sensitivities (over-responsiveness):

  • Extreme response to or fear of sudden, high-pitched, loud or metallic noises (flushing toilets, clanking silverware, dogs barking etc.) 
  • May notice or be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Fearful of surprise touches
  • Avoids hugs and cuddling (even with familiar adults)
  • Seems fearful of crowds
  • Avoids standing in close proximity to others
  • Overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Extremely fearful of climbing or falling, even when there is no real danger
  • Has poor balance and may fall often

Signs of sensory processing hypo-sensitivities (under-responsiveness):

  • A constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s inappropriate to do so
  • Doesn’t understand personal space when peers understand it
  • Clumsy and uncoordinated movements
  • Extremely high pain tolerance
  • Often harms other children and/or pets when playing (i.e. doesn’t understand his or her own strength)
  • May be very fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Enjoys movement-based play like spinning, jumping, etc.
  • Seems to be a “thrill seeker” and can be a danger to self at times

What can occupational therapy do for my child?

If you feel your child suffers from Sensory Processing Disorder, an evaluation by a qualified pediatric OT may be warranted. We encourage you to discuss this with your child’s pediatrician. If warranted, the occupational therapist will evaluate your child to help determine what type of sensory concerns there may be. They will then educate you on the causes and what systems are affected, and help collaborate on strategies to implement to address these sensory processing difficulties. 

If you have questions for our Pediatric Occupational Therapists or would like to schedule an evaluation for your child, contact our staff at 419-586-2077 or submit your info here.

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