Sensory Integration

Sensory Processing Theory: The sensory processing theory was developed to “explain the relationship between deficits in interpreting sensory stimuli from the sensation body and the environment and difficulties with academic and motor learning”(Critz et al., 2015). Sensory processing is the way an individual interprets multiple sensory stimuli from the 8 different sensory inputs our body can respond to:

1. Visual: responsible for seeing

2. Auditory: responsible for hearing

3. Tactile: responsible for processing touch information from the body

4. Gustatory: responsible for the sense of taste

5. Olfaction: responsible for processing smell

6. Proprioception: responsible for the sense of position, location, orientation and movement of the body muscles and joints. It tells the body where it is in space, which allows an individual to know where a body part is without having to see it.

7. Vestibular: contributes to balance and movement in relation to gravity and the environment.

8. Interoception: responsible for the senses related to the physiological/physical condition of the body. It tells the brain what’s going on inside the body (organs, hormones, and immune system).

Sensory Modulation: “the ability to regulate the degree, intensity, and nature of the response to a sensory input and significantly impacts the way a child relates to the world”(Critz et al., 2015). Our senses can be affected individually or in combination with one another when experiencing sensory modulating challenges. Sensory modulation can be expressed in three different ways:

  • Under-Responsive: the body does not notice or process information received from a sense effectively. Oftentimes, under-responders seek sensory input. (prefers loud music, puts objects in the mouth, needs to be in constant motion)
  • Over-Responsive: the body has difficulty regulating sensory information from the nervous system. Oftentimes, over-responsive individuals avoid sensory input. (covers ears to avoid “loud” noises, avoids “messy” play, doesn’t like tags, seams, & certain fabrics)
  • Sensory craver: the body craves an intense amount of input for the it to process sensory stimuli properly. These individuals always seem to be moving, crashing, bumping, or jumping and feel the “need” to touch everything or be overly affectionate. Individuals who crave stimuli often do not regulate from receiving sensory stimuli, rather they often become disorganized from it.

Signs of Sensory Processing/Modulation Challenges


  • Sleeping for long period of times
  • May refuse to eat
  • Rejects new tastes and textures
  • Cries when held by others
  • Dislikes cuddling
  • Withdraws when new textures touch the skin


  • No sense of personal space
  • Clumsy/uncoordinated
  • High pain tolerance
  • Resist playing with certain toys because “it doesn’t feel right”
  • Closing eye
  • Covering ears
  • Restlessness

Preschoolers/School Aged Children

  • Unaware of personal space
  • Clumsy/uncoordinated
  • High pain tolerance
  • Constant need to touch people and things, even when appropriate to do so
  • Cries when hair is brushed
  • Covers ears when school bell sounds
  • Feels sick at the smell of household cleaning products
  • Difficulty dressing, eating, sleeping and toilet training
  • Temper tantrums
  • Trouble paying attention/interacting with friends/learning
  • Poor motor coordination with refined gross motor skills (ball skills, jumping rope)
  • Poor fine motor skills (handwriting)
  • Decreased motor endurance
  • Difficulties motor planning
  • Difficulty executing new motor activities 
  • Feeling of inadequacy
  • Social isolation
  • Behavioral outbursts

Ways Occupational Therapy can help your child with Sensory Processing Difficulties

✔ Identify and modify environmental barriers that limit performance and/or participation in daily activities

✔ Collaborate with family, teachers, and other professionals to determine the need for a specialized evaluation and intervention plan

✔ Find strengths that support a child’s need to be successful in their occupations. 

✔ Teach activities to support sensory, motor, and behavioral needs

✔ Provide adaptive strategies, sensory interventions, and motor skills development using various approaches to facilitate full participation in daily routines

✔ Improve one’s self-awareness and the impact of different factors that contribute to everyday activities/routines

✔ Provide ways to decrease or overcome sensory processing challenges


Critz, C., Blake, K., & Nogueira, E. (2015). Sensory Processing Challenges in Children. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, 11(7), 710–716.


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