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Sensory Processing


Sensory processing (sometimes called "sensory integration" or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioural responses (SPD Foundation).

Intact sensory processing enables us to identify what information is important, block information that is not important, compare information with past experience or other types of sensory experience to form a plan of action if needed, developing a plan, send the message to the parts of the body needed to execute the plan and carry out movements as planned (adaptive response).

Functional problems can occur at any stage of the process!!

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as "sensory integration dysfunction") is a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. Individuals with SPD misinterpret everyday sensory information, such as touch, sound and movement. Some feel bombarded by sensory information; others seek out intense sensory experiences or have other problems.

Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological "traffic jam" that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioural problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively. (SPD Foundation) . Research by the SPD Foundation indicates that 1 in every 20 children experiences symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder that are significant enough to affect their ability to participate fully in everyday life.

The theory of sensory integration was developed in the early 1960s by Dr. A.Jean Ayres, an occupational therapist and psychologist. At first Ayre.’s interest focused on investigating the impact of visual perception on movement. Her research findings in visual perception did not provide the answers to all of the existing perceptual problems and led her to study the importance of tactile, kinesthetic, and vestibular processing on movement, learning, behaviour, and emotional well-being.

Ayres conducted numerous factor-analytic studies in children with and without learning difficulties and identified dysfunctions in the tactile , vestibular, proprioceptive and visual systems. Dysfunctions in sensory processing were found to interfere with development of motor planning, language, behaviour, emotional well-being and cognition.

Red Flags of Sensory Processing Disorder

Infants and toddlers

  •  Problems eating or sleeping
  •  Refuses to go to anyone but me
  •  Irritable when being dressed; uncomfortable in clothes
  •  Rarely plays with toys
  •  Resists cuddling, arches away when held
  •  Cannot calm self
  •  Floppy or stiff body, motor delays


  • Over-sensitive to touch, noises, smells, other people
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping, and/or toilet training
  • Clumsy; poor motor skills; weak
  • In constant motion; in everyone else's face and space
  • Frequent or long temper tantrums

Grade schoolers

  • Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, other people
  • Easily distracted, fidgety, craves movement; aggressive
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Difficulty with handwriting or motor activities
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Unaware of pain and/or other people

Adolescents and adults

  • Over-sensitive to touch, noise, smells, and other people
  • Poor self-esteem; afraid of failing at new tasks
  • Lethargic and slow
  • Always on the go; impulsive; distractible
  • Leaves tasks uncompleted
  • Clumsy, slow, poor motor skills or handwriting
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Difficulty staying focused at work and in meetings SPD

Sensory Integration is a therapy approach that involves controlling sensory stimulation in order to elicit an ‘adaptive response’ (and action or response to the situation in a purposeful manner) according to the child’s brain functions.  Therapy usually involves activities that provide Tactile (touch), Proprioceptive (body position sense) and Vestibular (body movement sense) as stimulation. Activities are implemented to assist with organizing the sensory information to allow the child to move toward participation in activities in the “just right” mode

We have provided links to the SI Foundation and other sources of useful information on the Our Links page. If you want to ask any questions about SI, or to discuss the need of an assessment for your child please follow Contact from the menu above.


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