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3 Things You Should Know About Sensory Processing

Sage Kearney

December 10, 2020

Have you ever thought to yourself – “Gosh, I wish everyone knew (fill in the blank)!”. After working with hundreds of children over 20+ years to address sensory processing challenges, I have identified 3 key facts, or perspectives, that I believe would change the world if it was common knowledge. My goal for you is that by then end of this post you will look at sensory processing through a kinder, more familiar, humanized lens & hopefully be inspired to learn more about sensory processing. Let’s jump on in!

How we process sensory information is not a choice

Alright, so if you are familiar with sensory processing you know that it’s a three step process our brain deploys every time we experience sensory information. First we take in the sensory information (think of the senses – sound, smell, taste, touch, sight), then our brain interprets that information (is it dangerous, do I like it, do I want more), and lastly those interpretations influence the third step which is our reaction to the information (think scream, ignore, get excited).

As logical as that process sounds, it isn’t. It’s neurological. Meaning it happens incredibly, incredibly fast. When we break up the process, it’s easy for us to think it’s a slow, deliberate process & that we ultimately choose how our brain processes sensory information.

Just think about how much sensory information we are taking in at any given moment. As you sit reading this post, what feelings, smells, sounds, tastes are you processing?

When you think about it in terms of survival, back in the day cavewoman Sally needed to respond to sensory input at the drop of a hat to survive. Hearing a twig snap, or seeing a suspicious glimmer, was her cue to run away or climb a tree to avoid getting eaten by that sabertooth tiger.

Luckily we aren’t having to constantly worry about getting eaten nowadays, but the point is that we don’t choose how our brain instinctively reacts to sensory input.

So when someone reacts to something in a way that isn’t anticipated or appropriate, don’t take it personal. You never know what is going on in their mind body system, so extend grace & kindness.

Everyone benefits from sensory supportive environments

Let me say it again for the people in the back – Everyone can benefit from sensory supportive environments. Imagine me placed on top of the nearest roof with a microphone because I truly, truly want to make sure this message is heard. Everyone, whether you have a diagnosis or not, can benefit from understanding sensory processing as a whole &  how to leverage sensory preferences to maximize your personal & communal success.

When we are aware of how our bodies process sensory information we can

  • understand why we do things the way we do,
  • advocate for ourselves,
  • communicate our needs to others,
  • protect ourselves from certain situations,
  • maximize our learning,
  • & ultimately set ourselves up for success

Now imagine an entire community built off of that degree of awareness. How incredible would that be?!

You can change the way your brain processes sensory information

I know what you are thinking already – “Wait, you just said that the way we process sensory information is not a choice. How can we change it if it’s not a choice?”. Hear me out – by working with a skilled & experienced occupational therapist, it is possible to change how your child’s brain processes sensory information.

Naturally, as a part of our training as OTs, we know more about child behavior & development than the average person. This knowledge, paired with our clinical experience, enables us to get a really good grasp on what ‘pieces of the puzzle’ are missing or need extra support. We have the tools to take that knowledge and create an environment where our clients are supported & feel comfortable taking risks. We know when to strategically provide more of one sensation, and less of another sensation.

It’s hard to put the methodology behind rewiring the brain’s default processing into words, but basically we as OTs have an immense understanding of how to interpret & communicate with your child’s mind/body system. As nerdy as it sounds, we know how to talk with muscles & ligaments & nerves… & the body attached to them.

So if your family is going through a really hard time sensory wise, there are things you can do to change that. There is hope for you & your child. Things don’t have to be the way they are right now for the rest of your life.

At first exposure, the world of sensory processing can seem quite overwhelming. The more you learn & expose yourself to it though, the less overwhelming it becomes. Just think of what you already know! You know that it’s a three step process that is employed every time we experience sensory information, you understand that it isn’t a choice & not to take things personally, you can see the benefit of sensory supportive environments for everyone – diagnosis or not – and finally, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. That there is hope for the future of a child who struggles processing sensory information.

My goal is to build a community where these facts are embraced & put into action by everyone. If you are looking to expand your understanding of sensory processing & how it relates to your child, I would love to give you our Sensory Crash Course. Developed specifically for parents of elementary aged children, this crash course will provide an easy to understand introduction to sensory processing that you can use to build on as you travers your sensory journey. (Get the crash course here)

And as always, if you would like to talk with someone about your child & their struggles, my door is open. Give me a call at (770)798-9844, or email me here to get started. 

When we are aware of how our bodies process sensory information we can understand why we do things the way we do, advocate for ourselves, maximize our learning, & so much more.

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