“What is a sensory processing disorder?”   It is a condition in which an individual has difficulty processing the information coming in from the various systems. With a sensory processing disorder, one, two, or all three of the following sensory systems might be involved (as well as any of the other senses), leading to sensory modulation problems.  Sensory modulation is the ability to regulate sensory input from the various sensory systems so that a person can orient, attention can be focused, and an alert and a relaxed state can be maintained during daily routines. To better understand sensory modulation, you need to know about the following sensory systems.

Tactile System: The tactile system is the sense of touch. This is the sensory system that helps us learn about our bodies and our environment. It is important in the development of a child’s body scheme (the internal map of our body and how we use our body to interact with the world around us). This system is composed of two subsystems: (1) discriminatory- allows us to know where we are being touched, (2) protective- lets us know if we are in contact with something dangerous. Tactile input is very important for the development of fine-motor skills, visual perception skills, and articulation of sounds.

The Vestibular System: The vestibular system is the sensory system that responds to accelerated and decelerated movement. It is through the vestibular system that we learn directions and are aware of our body position in space. This input helps us to form a basic reference for all sensory experiences. This system has interconnections with many parts of the body and influences many different functions, for example, muscle tone, postural control, balance, eye and neck muscles.

The Proprioceptive System: Proprioceptive information is sensations from muscles and joints. Proprioceptive input tells the brain when and how muscles are contracting and stretching and how joints are being compressed or stretched. It helps us to know where our bodies are in space and how they are moving. Proprioceptive input provides a calming effect. It works along with the vestibular system.

An experienced therapist can evaluate and determine which systems are involved, allowing for more specific treatment planning, which leads to more effective treatment! In my next entry, I’ll share a variety of sensory activities that are alerting, calming, etc.

 Photo by David Castillo Dominici @ freedigitalphotos.net