by Stacy Kramer OT Reg. (Ont) & Lizette Alexander OT Reg. (Ont)
As children we were all taught about the five senses of our body – taste, smell, hearing, vision, and touch. These senses give us information from the outside world in order to help us navigate our environment for play, school work, and day-to-day activities such as dressing and feeding. Our senses tell us first and foremost whether something is safe or dangerous. Then our senses inform us of the properties of an object or stimuli, and from this information our brains are able to make a mental representation of our world. We all process sensory information in a slightly different way, and we all have our own idiosyncrancies when it comes to relating to the world. Sensory differences are not necessarily a concern – for instance, we all experience touch differently, and some people enjoy things that others detest. Sensory processing becomes a concern only when routine experiences are avoided, or when an individual is not able to function effectively in daily activities.
Here are some examples of sensory processing concerns that you might typically see as a parent:
- Avoid light or unexpected touch
- Dislike being hugged or cuddled.
- Over-react to minor cuts or scrapes.
- Avoid touching certain textures or materials
- Avoid messy play (such as sand or play-dough).
- Constant need to touch things.
- Not notice messy hands or face.
- Frequently puts non-food items in mouth.
- Uses a ‘heavy hand’ when writing or playing.
- Messy when eating.
- Easily distracted by background noises that others tune out.
- Reacts negatively to loud noises.
- Becomes over-whelmed in loud or boisterous settings such as at a birthday party.
- Not respond consistently to sound of name.
- Prefers music and TV to be played at very loud volumes.
- Makes loud sounds or hums.
- Does not follow verbal instructions well.
- Smells everything before eating.
- Reacts negatively to everyday smells.
- Appears sensitive to perfumes or other common smells.
- Easily distracted by people and objects in the room.
- Difficulty functioning in crowded places.
- Does not seem to notice obstacles in close proximity.
- Has trouble finding objects when there are many other things to look at.
- Appears unusually bothered by the sun or bright lights.
- Prefers to keep indoor lighting dim, or to be in the dark.
- Refuses to try new food.
- Avoids eating food with a specific texture (such as avoiding chewy food or food with a mixed texture).
- Avoids eating food with a specific temperature (such as refusing cold food).
- Chokes or gags when trying new food.
In this blog we have discussed what could happen when information received from our five senses is misinterpreted or misunderstood. But we also have two more ‘hidden senses’ – senses that are not as well known, but that are vitally important in helping us move our body effectively and navigate safely through our environment. These senses are called propioception and vestibular ; please stay tuned for more information about these crucial senses in future blogs!