Understanding and Helping Children with Sensory Processing Issues
Most of us are familiar with the five senses - sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. But did you know that there are three additional internal senses? These internal senses - vestibular, proprioception and interoception - play an important role in our ability to process information and interact with the world around us. For some children, these internal senses can be oversensitive (sometimes called hypersensitive) or undersensitive, which can lead to difficulties in processing information and interacting with the world. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at each of these internal senses and offer some tips for helping children who may be experiencing sensory processing issues.
The vestibular sense is our sense of balance and spatial orientation. It helps us understand where our bodies are in space and how they are moving. Children who are oversensitive to vestibular input may avoid activities that require movement or may appear to be clumsy. They may also seek out vestibular input by spinning, swinging or jumping excessively. Children who are undersensitive to vestibular input may seem fearless and engage in risky behaviors. They may also have difficulty learning new motor skills.
The proprioceptive sense is our sense of the position of our bodies in space and the strength of our physical responses. It helps us understand where our limbs are in relation to our bodies and how much force is needed to perform an action. Children who are oversensitive to proprioceptive input may avoid activities that require movement or touch. They may also have difficulty learning new motor skills or completing fine motor tasks such as buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces. Children who are undersensitive to proprioceptive input may seem clumsy or uncoordinated. They may also seek out proprioceptive input by roughhousing or engaging in risky behaviors.
The interoceptive sense is our awareness of internal body sensations such as hunger, thirst, pain and temperature regulation. It helps us understand what is happening inside our bodies and how we should respond to those sensations. Children who are oversensitive to interoceptive input may be uncomfortable with certain types of touch or textures. They may also be sensitive to changes in temperature or light level. Children who are undersensitive to interoceptive input may not notice when they need to use the bathroom or when they're hungry or thirsty. They may also seek out interoceptive input by engaging in risky behaviors such as running into walls or tables or putting their hands on hot surfaces.
Sensory processing issues can make everyday activities challenging for children. However, there are many things that parents and professionals can do to help children manage their sensory processing issues and live happier, more fulfilling lives. If you think your child might be experiencing sensory processing issues, look for signs of distress such as avoidance of certain activities, difficulty learning new motor skills or excessive seeking of sensory input through risky behaviors. If you suspect your child has sensory processing issues, there are many resources available to help you better understand the condition and find ways to support your child's needs.
By Katherine Wallisch M.S., CCC-SLP, CAS, BCCS
Speech Language Pathologist
AAC & Autism Expert
Parent Empowerment for Special Needs Kids
Parent Empowerment Channel: Special Needs Kids
AAC & Autism Expert: Parent Empowerment