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Sensory Processing…What is it all about?

As humans we learn through our senses. Sensory processing is how we transform sensory information from within our own bodies and the external environment into messages we can act on. It is tempting to think of senses (touch, sight, sound, movement, body awareness, taste, and smell) as separate channels of information, but they actually work together to give us a reliable picture of the world and our place in it.

As you read this article now your senses are working together. You see letters on the screen. You filter out unimportant sensory input so you can make sense of what you are reading. You hear background sounds and feel your sleeves on your arms, the chair you are sitting on, and the floor beneath your feet. As you press the keyboard keys and mouse to scroll down through this article you also process touch and know how heavily/lightly you need to press to operate the keyboard effectively. Before now, had you ever thought about how important your sensory systems are?

For some adults and children the brain does not process and make sense of the messages it has received from our senses (this is called integration). Such difficulties mean that these individuals are at high risk of experiencing social, educational and emotional problems. These problems include not having the ability to be part of a social group or make a few friends, poor self-esteem and self-awareness, significant academic difficulties and even being labeled as being challenging and disruptive, or “in their own world” and clumsy. Sadly and unnecessarily, significant behavioural difficulties, anxiety and depression can evolve.

Sensory processing difficulties can be seen in isolation or more frequently in combination with Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorders, Developmental Coordination Disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders (to name just a few). However, unfortunately we infrequently hear or see sensory processing difficulties being acknowledged and understood by teachers, health professionals and specialist care staff.

Those with Autism Spectrum Disorder may find that “their Autism” and any associated communication difficulties are blamed for functional and behavioural difficulties. The underlying sensory processing difficulties can often go unacknowledged. Untreated or misdiagnosed sensory processing difficulties can have a significant and detrimental impact.

A comprehensive assessment by an accredited sensory integration practitioner assists in developing an understanding as to why a young person or adult experiences the difficulties that they do. Firstly, the practitioner will help establish the difference between “behaviours” and “sensory derived behaviours”. From this they then provide guidance and support as to what effective intervention strategies are required to address the sensory processing difficulties. Ultimately the aim is to help the young person or adult achieve their maximum potential in all aspects of life.

Is it really all just the “Autism”?

If you need help looking for services for an individual with an autism spectrum condition, we can help. Click below for the Autism Placement Support Service.

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