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Humans have eight senses: touch, smell, vision, hearing, taste, proprioception, vestibular and the interoceptive sense.* We take in information about our environment through our 8 senses. The ability of the brain to organize sensory input varies from individual to individual. For most sensory processing is done automatically and taken for granted. For some individuals differences in sensory integration and processing are so profound that they are disabling- the world never feels safe and constantly feels disorganizing which has a huge impact on function and quality of life. What is Sensory Processing? STAR Institute 

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition where the sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. A. Jean Ayres- an occupational therapist who developed the theory of SPD and created evaluation procedures and intervention strategies for SPD- described SPD as a neurological traffic jam that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information from the environment correctly. Thus, an individual with SPD has difficulty processing and acting upon information received through the 8 senses, which creates challenges in preforming everyday tasks. If the brain does not correctly process and respond to sensory information then the individual will not be able to perceive and properly make use of the information from their senses and will not be able to interact with their environment optimally. Motor issues, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, difficulty in school, and other impacts may result if sensory processing differences and challenges are not adequately addressed and supported. Sensory processing differences and challenges occur within a broad spectrum of severity. While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for some differences in sensory integration are chronic, and disrupt everyday life. It is difficult to say with certainty how many children and adults struggle with sensory processing differences. Certain populations, such as Autistics, are more likely to experience sensory differences and challenges.


The signs of sensory processing and integration differences are numerous and often overlap with other conditions. Some common ones include avoidance of certain textures/sounds/games etc., being clumsy, tiring easily, hyperactivity/hypoactivity, spinning and other repetitive purposeful movements, anxiety, aggression, having difficulty interpreting sensory information and responding appropriately to it, difficulty with social interaction, fear of everyday objects or activities such as stairs or swings, and difficulty with concentration. 


To better understand sensory challenges imagine you’re trying to study for a difficult exam at a rock concert while wearing a really itchy wool sweater. How much learning are you actually doing? How receptive to touch and socializing would you be during or after this experience? How might you react if this was how you felt 24/7?

Massage can help with sensory processing differences and challenges as touch can provide calming and grounding sensations, creating a felt sense of safety and can also be used to provide physical cues to assist in task execution. Massage can also help reduce tactile defensiveness. Note: touch should never be forced. In order to get any benefit from massage the individual needs to freely consent to being touched. It's important an individuals no is respected as is signs that they're experiencing overwhelm or discomfort such as pulling away or tensing their muscles or freezing in place. 

*Proprioceptive is the body awareness sense. It tells the mind where the body begins and ends and is linked to the tactile and vestibular system. This sense gives us information about how much force to use and through which line of motion to move while doing activities such as picking up a glass of water.

Vestibular is the movement and balance sense which gives us information about where our head and body are in space and allows us to stay upright while we sit, stand, and walk. This sense is involved in the body’s sense of balance and awareness of space, gravity and movement. A malfunctioning vestibular system creates the feeling of being “lost in space”.

Interoception is an internal body sense that senses essential regulation responses such as hunger, breathing, heart rate, and respiration in the body.  Difficulty with interpreting interoceptive cues can make it difficult to understand and interpret internal states- a well-known example would be when people mistake the symptoms of a panic attack for a heart attack. Their brain can’t explain the sensory input-racing heart etc.- so it thinks its dying and freaks out even more.

Resources Neurodiversity Firesides: Attachment Occupations, SI and Neurodiversity Affirming Early Intervention

Sensory Health in Autism Conference 2022 

Sensory Health in Autism Conference 2023*20autism*20summit&c=325&o=-d 

Sensory symposium 2022*20symposium*202022&c=325&n=2&o=-d 

Biel, L. & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a sensory smart child: The definitive handbook for helping your child with sensory processing issues. New York, NY: Penguin Books. 

Owen, J. P., Marco, E. J., Desai, S; Fourie, E.; Harris, J.; Hill, S. S.; Arnett, A. B.; & Mukeriee, P. (2013). Abnormal white matter microstructure in children with sensory processing disorders. NeuroImage: Clinical, 2, 844-853.

SciShow Psych. (2021, July 15). Do we have more than 5 senses? YouTube.

SciShow Psych. (2021, January 28.). Why you can’t listen to music while you work . YouTube.

Star Institute. (2018). Understanding sensory processing disorder. Retrieved from

Star Center. (n.d.). Sensory Processing Disorder Explained: SPD Foundation. Retrieved from

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