What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory processing or sensory integration, is the process that the body organises the sensations from the environment and one’s own body. This process is important for the brain and nervous system to be able to effectively register and interpret the sensory input from the environment. 


So why is sensory processing so important? 


Very early sensory processing begins in utero. Babies are able to process touch sensations, beginning around the face, lips and nose, to then being able to appreciate a full range of touch sensations including heat, cold, pressure and pain. They are able to see and track illuminating light from within the womb and they can hear and distinguish their parents voices. Once the baby is born, a burst of the most impactful sensory development begins to occur. All of these sensory experiences that begin in-utero and infancy, shape and influence a babies early development and attachment.


As the child begins to become proficient in interpreting their sensory information, their motor movements become more seamless, their interaction with caregivers and favourite toys become deeper and they seem more in control of their emotions and connected to the world around them. 


A child who is efficient in processing their sensory environment responds to the world around them with appropriate behaviour, attention, skill acquisition and self-regulation.

Children in the classroom are able to sit and attend to the important information and therefore increase their academic potential. They are able to understand and control their body’s movement in relation to its environment and surroundings, thus improving their gross and fine motor skills as well as social interaction with peers. 


‘When a child is well-regulated, he adapts to changes in the environment, has a level of arousal and attention appropriate to the task, blocks out irrelevant information, attends to relevant information, and responds appropriately in direct proportion to the input. Behaviorally, sensory modulation thus refers to the observable ability of a child to produce “responses that match the demands and expectations of the environment” (Lane, 2002).’


What are the foundations necessary for efficient sensory processing? 

Contrary to what Hi-5 taught us about having 5 senses, we in fact have 7 senses that make up our sensory system.


  1. Visual sense: Is the ability to make sense of what is seen. 
  2. Auditory sense: The ability to interpret information for what is heard. 
  3. Tactile sense: The ability to interpret information coming into the body from the receptors in the  skin. 
  4. Gustatory sense: The ability to interpret information for items in and around the mouth
  5. Olfactory sense: The ability to interpret smells.
  6. Proprioceptive sense: The ability to interpret where our body parts are in relation to each other and to the environment. This sense uses information from the nerves, muscles and bones to inform our nervous system about the position of our body in space. 
  7. Vestibular sense: The ability to interpret information relating to movement and balance. This sense interprets the information that comes into our inner ear to give our nervous system information about movement, head position, change of direction and gravitational pull. 


What are some things to look for if my child has poor sensory processing? 

  • Your child may be overly active across a range of environments
  • Your child may be regularly lethargic or lacking in speed for activities 
  • Your child may be poor attention to tasks 
  • Difficulty managing crowds and group situations 
  • Your child may avoid different community environments e.g. the beach, park or shopping centres 
  • Your child may regularly cover their ears when surprised by noises 
  • Has poor motor skills- may be clumsy or appear uncoordinated with reduced balance or motor planning skills 
  • Your child appears to have ‘low muscle tone’ or tires easily during everyday interactions. 
  • Your child has a restricted diet or is a ‘picky eater’
  • Your child prefers to play alone or has difficulty maintaining and building peer relationships


If you have any concerns with your child’s sensory processing or sensory modulation skills or if you want to chat to one of our occupational therapists, please don’t hesitate to call or email us here at Cooee.


Bre Surawski

Occupational Therapist