Updated: Mar 15, 2022
It took me a long time to understand how differently people can process sensory information. Whilst everyone experiences and processes the world through our senses, some individuals will process sensory information differently or more intensely. Some people will be hypersensitive to things like touch, sound, smell, taste and light (sight) whilst others will be under-sensitive to the same things and actually seek out sensory input from their environment. You can be both under and over sensitive to sensory stimuli and it can vary significantly for each person.
As well as sight, sound, touch, taste and smell there are a few more senses that have a big impact on us that you might not be aware of:
Balance (Vestibular): This is the sense of movement, balance and our spatial orientation.
Body Awareness (Proprioception): knowing where your body is in space without the use of sight and touch. This is the sense you would use to be able to clap your hands with your eyes closed or know how much pressure to apply to a pencil when writing.
Internal Body Signals (Interoception): the sense that identifies our bodily signals such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature and knowing when you need the toilet.
It can be easy for some individuals with sensory processing differences to become over stimulated and overwhelmed. We constantly take on information through our senses which is transferred to our brains where we process it. The majority of information is filtered out and deleted, we only tend to pay attention to a very small amount of sensory information we come across. However for some people they don’t have the same ability to filter out the information and can find themselves overloaded with too much information.
When someone becomes overwhelmed by sensory input try to help by doing the following
Provide a safe space
Meeting sensory needs
Most of us use self-stimulatory behaviors such as fiddling with our pencils when anxious or tapping our feet to music when we are enjoying the sound. For those with sensory processing differences you may find the sensory related behaviors are different too. Most children benefit from sensory play and sensory supports but for many it is also a sensory need. We refer to supporting sensory needs as providing a ‘sensory diet’ essentially creating the right balance between sensory inputs and supports to ensure a person is regulated. Every individual has different needs and providing access to sensory supports and stimulation regularly throughout the day will help you to find what works for that individual. I always recommend starting with lots of sensory play to help find things that can be calming.
Guest post by Jade Page, The Autism Page