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Sensory Activities: Engaging Within Natural Environments

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Kids without sensory processing disorder can also have difficulty with processing senses, just on a smaller scale.

When we think of the senses, the five that many of us can recall are: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. However, our bodies process three more senses that are critical to everyday living. Vestibular (sense of balance), proprioceptive (sense of where one is in space), and interoceptive (sense of what is going on internally) are the remaining senses which is allow us to function.

When kids (and adults) are unable to process these senses, their entire world seems to be off. Clothing doesn’t feel right, they walk with too much force, they bump into walls and people, and are often unable to process their own emotions. The good news is, once we understand what is going on – we are fully equipped to help them so daily tasks become enjoyable and not monotonous.

Often time, sensory based activities can be worked into everyday tasks. This allows children to continue to engage around the home and in their natural environments, without being singled out.

  • Vestibular input is the sensation of any change in position, movement, or direction of the head. The fluid in your inner ear is responsible for this. Vestibular input lets our body know if we are moving with or against gravity, moving or still, fast or slow, and what direction we are headed.

Activities to help with differences in vestibular processing: yoga, hanging upside down from the couch, riding a back, rolling backwards over a yoga ball, swinging, and jumping on a trampoline

  • Proprioceptive input or proprioception is sensory input we gain into our joints and muscles to tell us about our movements and body position.

Activities to help with differences in proprioceptive processing: pushing, pulling, climbing, lifting, carrying and any weight-bearing activities. Have them help; take out the trash, push chairs up to the table, move the laundry basket, or carry in grocery bags!

  • Interoception is basically the sense of our bodies’ internal state. It’s how we feel and understand what’s happening inside ourselves. The interoceptive system also controls autonomic motor movements. That is our unconscious movements such as blinking, breathing, flinching, etc.

Activities to help with differences in interoception processing: yoga, breathing exercises, alerting activities, and mindfulness activities.

A sensory profile can be completed to determine what sensory supports a child could benefit from. If you, or someone you know, has a child who could benefit from any of the above stated activities, reach out to an occupational therapist! Getting them the help they need, to process sensory input correctly, can be as easy as adding in everyday activities.

Cameron Lile, MS, OTR/L