Your Senses and SPD – Sensory Wise

  • Our Sensory System
  • How our senses work together
  • Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
  • Our Sensory System with SPD
  • The signs of SPD

our-senses-and-spd-sensory-wiseYour Sensory System

Understanding your senses and SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) will help you get the most from our services here at Sensory Wise.

Your sensory system gives you the information you need to be able to go about your daily life and function. You probably recognise the five main senses. These are:

  • Touch (Tactile)
  • Hearing (Auditory)
  • Sight (Visual)
  • Smell (Olfactory)
  • Taste and Oral Motor (Gustatory)

However, there are two more vital sensory systems you need to be aware of:

  • Balance (Vestibular) and
  • Body Awareness (Proprioception)

These sensory systems help you with your movement and the position of your body.

Let’s take a look at these senses and sensory systems in more detail. Doing this will help you understand your senses and SPD.

BALANCE = YOUR VESTIBULAR SYSTEM

Where is your vestibular system? It’s located in your inner ear.

What is it for? Your vestibular system helps you balance. It relates you to gravity and gives you the sensation of the weight of your body. It also helps you detect movement, speed, direction and gives you a sense of where you are (for example, standing, sitting, falling, or turning your head).

Your sense of balance (or your vestibular system) gives you a sense of safety. For example, you know when you have your feet on the ground or your bottom on a seat. This sensory system also helps your brain organise and process what is being said to you (so you can develop language, comprehension and speech).

BODY AWARENESS = YOUR PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM

Where is your proprioceptive system? It’s located in your muscles and joints.

What is it for? Your proprioceptive system enables you to perceive muscle movements. It helps you co-ordinate all your movements, from your tongue to your limbs. Examples of these movements could include: combing your hair, or catching or kicking a ball.

Your proprioceptive system also gives you a sense of how much pressure you’re applying to something, such as when you’re writing or working out how hard to press down on something. This sensory system is also really important for attention.

TOUCH = YOUR TACTILE SYSTEM

Where is your tactile system? It’s located in your skin and mouth.

What is it for? Your sense of touch (or your tactile system) helps give your brain information about temperature, pressure, touch, and pain. It helps alert you to any dangers in your environment and enables you to discover the world through touching things.

Your tactile system also gives you a sense of safety, helping you bond with others and develop socially and emotionally.

It’s important for your touch, body awareness and balance systems to work together efficiently, because this is vital for your speech and language, learning and academic abilities.

HEARING = YOUR AUDITORY SYSTEM

Where is your auditory system? It’s located in your ears.

What is it for? Your auditory system enables you to pick up soundwaves from people speaking and your environment. These soundwaves are then sent to your brain to be interpreted.

Your sense of hearing is vital for communication and attention, because it helps you know where sounds are coming from. It also helps you differentiate between sounds and is closely related to your sense of balance.

SIGHT = YOUR VISUAL SYSTEM

Where is your visual system? It’s located in your eyes.

What is it for? Your visual  system helps you make sense of what you see and how clearly you see objects.

Your sense of sight is important for tracking, where you move your eyes without turning your head. It also helps you co-ordinate movement, such as handwriting or catching a ball.

The visual system helps you find patterns and recognise the differences between objects which appear similar (such as the letters b, p, d, q, or the shapes and sizes of Lego pieces).

Your sense of sight is important for attention, emotional tagging and motivation.

SMELL = YOUR OLFACTORY SYSTEM

Where is your olfactory system? It’s located in your nose.

What is it for? Your olfactory system provides your brain with information about different types of smells. It’s vital for emotional memory, motivation, and for storing long-term memories – this is why certain smells can evoke memories.

Your sense of smell is closely related to your sense of taste and everyone’s olfactory system is based on the individual. This is why some foods taste good or bad to some people, and why a smell that’s calming and pleasant to one person can be alarming or repulsive to another.

TASTE = YOUR GUSTATORY SYSTEM

Where is your gustatory system? It’s located in your mouth.

What is it for? You rely on your sense of taste to eat, drink, or even blow up a balloon. Input to the gustatory system can be either calming or alerting to your nervous system.

For example, foods which are sour, salty, or cold can be alerting, while those which are sweet or warm can be calming.

Your sense of taste is closely related to your sense of smell, so when your nose is covered (or you have a blocked nose), you’ll also notice your food tastes bland.

We’ve created the graphic below to give you a handy guide to how the senses work.

Just right-click and ‘save as’ to download this to your computer and print it out.

Our Senses

sensory-integration-spd-sensory-wiseSensory Integration: How Your Senses Work Together

What is Sensory Integration and how is this affected by Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? To help you understand more about our senses and SPD, it’s important to remember this:

Your brain is a sensory processing machine.

Your brain and central nervous system interpret and organise the sensory messages they receive from your body and the world around you.

They turn them into your physical and behavioural responses, a neurological process known as Sensory Integration.

From early childhood, Sensory Integration lays the foundations for academic learning and social understanding. The time from when you’re born up to the age of 10 is a particularly important time for developing efficient Sensory Integration and it continues throughout your life.

Sensory Integration and Your Natural Body Rhythm

Sensory Integration is an element of your natural body rhythm and is part of what makes you who you are. Sensory Integration enables everyday life and occurs in all of us, around the clock, without us even knowing it.

Whether you are sleeping, eating, getting dressed, riding a bike, reading a book or simply listening to someone talk, to do any of these things successfully requires Sensory Integration.

Your sensory processing can impact how you feel, interact with others and react in a situation or new environment. In many ways, your sensory processing can also help keep you safe from harm and danger.

When you process sensory information ‘normally’ you are naturally and almost effortlessly able to function and maintain control of your movements, emotions, and behaviour. This means you are able to focus, play, listen to instruction and effectively communicate.

about-sensory-processing-disorder-sensory-wiseSensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Senses and SPD – When messages to the brain get mixed up.

Where Sensory Integration does not develop as efficiently as it should, the ‘messages’ the brain is receiving are mixed up and the nervous system has difficulty organising them into the appropriate responses. This is known as Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD.

Children with SPD often have difficulties in the following areas:

  • Attention and behaviour
  • Social skills, including their self-esteem
  • Play skills
  • Fine and gross motor skills
  • Daily living and routines such as sleeping, eating or getting dressed

Sensory processing difficulties affect up to 20% of the population and can occur across the lifespan. SPD can take many forms and is often a hidden difference which can be found where a person has no existing diagnosis or Special Educational Needs (SEN).

More frequently, SPD can be seen in combination with other diagnoses – including Dyspraxia, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Fragile X Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Irlans.

The list of conditions SPD can relate to is endless. We are all different to one another in many ways, but the presenting sensory issues are the same. SPD can develop in any one of us and we may not even realise it. Understanding more about our senses and SPD can help us deal with it more easily.

We Are Who We Are

Visible or hidden, our differences are all characteristics which set us apart. And, equally, these differences help bring us together when we find common ground in our similarities. Everyone, regardless of age or ability, has the capability to process sensory information.

When we consider being in a busy classroom, shopping centre or office, the average person is able to tune out background noise and other distractions. For a person with SPD, this extra sensory input can overload the nervous system, causing a physical stress response such as a ‘fight or flight’ instinct or a ‘freeze’ response for some.

On the other hand, too little sensory input can cause us to be lethargic and floppy. The sensory experience is unpredictable, can lack meaning and affects one person differently to another. As adults, we learn to develop our own coping mechanisms for dealing with our sensory differences.

For example, these might be turning the radio down to concentrate better when driving, biting our nails, avoiding shopping at busy times, choosing to work in a small quiet office instead of a busy call centre, or putting our headphones on while we travel or work.

For children with SPD – in particular those who have difficulty communicating – the mixed messages their brain is receiving can be incredibly frustrating and their behaviour can be misinterpreted.

Children have not yet learned their own successful coping mechanisms or strategies and some children with SPD may be labelled as ‘naughty’ or a ‘problem child’ in the classroom for either being overactive or under-active and disengaged. Thankfully, getting more information on our senses and SPD can help overcome these misinterpretations.

The difficulties a child or an adult with SPD encounters can lead to low self-esteem, isolation and avoidance of certain activities impacting on both their relationships and their learning. Life with SPD can be more challenging and mean the world in which we live can be all the more confusing, difficult to navigate and cope with.

Understanding our senses and SPD can help you make sense of these issues and allow you and your family to move forward more easily.

sensory-system-with-spd-sensory-wiseOur Senses and SPD – The Sensory System with SPD

Here you will find information on how each of our sensory systems is impacted when we have SPD.

Regarding our senses and SPD, key signs to look out for in children include:

BALANCE = YOUR VESTIBULAR SYSTEM

  • A fear of heights
  • Difficulty sitting still or always moving and seeking movement
  • A dislike of tilting their heads or being upside down
  • Appearing to be clumsy or lacking typical motor movement co-ordination
  • Difficulty riding a bike, jumping, hopping, or balancing on one foot
  • Can be a thrill-seeker at times and does not see risk or danger
  • Rocking or spinning excessively

BODY AWARENESS = YOUR PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM

  • Applies too much pressure when writing or colouring-in
  • Appears too rough when touching other children or animals
  • Seems clumsy, uncoordinated and has difficulty performing everyday activities
  • May enjoy tight clothing or lots of layers
  • Always full of energy, on the go, loud and active
  • Walks with heavy feet and sounds like they’re stomping
  • Fidgety when seated

TOUCH = YOUR TACTILE SYSTEM

  • Bothered by clothing, such as socks, tags, or certain materials
  • Touching things constantly
  • Avoids groups of children and may fear unexpected touch
  • Avoids outdoor play and may dislike the feel of wind on their skin
  • Difficulty holding a pencil or using scissors
  • Dislikes finger painting and using glue or clay
  • May walk on their toes

HEARING = YOUR AUDITORY SYSTEM

  • May be extremely sensitive to auditory input and appear stressed or anxious
  • Covers their ears when exposed to sudden or loud noises
  • Has difficulty determining where a sound is coming from
  • Distracted by seemingly normal background noises and unable to filter them out
  • Either some delay or confusion when following verbal directions
  • May have normal hearing, but has difficulty organising, interpreting, or remembering auditory input

SIGHT = YOUR VISUAL SYSTEM

  • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
  • Has trouble copying information from one place or page to another
  • Struggles to keep pace while reading
  • Has difficulty tracking a moving object
  • Gets tired with reading or homework
  • Exhibits characteristics of dyslexia, such as reversing words or letters when copying
  • Difficulty judging space or distance

SMELL = YOUR OLFACTORY SYSTEM

  • Sensitive to even pleasant or normal smells, causing stress and anxiety
  • Refuses to eat certain foods due to their smell
  • Bothered by typical household or cooking scents and perfumes or aftershaves
  • Determines whether they like someone based on how they smell
  • Excessively smelling something when introduced to objects, people, or places
  • Uses smell to interact with objects
  • Seeks strong odours

TASTE = YOUR GUSTATORY SYSTEM

  • Fussy or picky eater who prefers to eat foods with familiar tastes and textures
  • Only eats ‘soft’ or pureed foods past two years of age and may gag with textured foods
  • Has difficulty sucking, chewing, and/or swallowing
  • Fearful of going to the dentist or having dental treatment
  • Dislikes or complains about toothpaste and/or mouthwash
  • May lick, taste, or chew on inedible objects past the toddler years
  • Complains or reacts adversely to smells

We’ve created the graphic below to give you a handy guide to our senses and SPD.

Just right-click and ‘save as’ to download this to your computer and print it out.

Our Sensor System with SPD

signs-of-spd-sensory-wiseThe signs of SPD

Reading this, you may well think that many of these behaviours are just kids being kids. In fact, many of us have occasional sensory differences but do not have SPD.

There are things that can affect our sensory balance, such as illness or level of physical activity. Some children may experience difficulties with only one area or type of SPD.

It is common for many people with SPD to exhibit behaviours that are characteristic of more than one type of SPD.

When deciding if you or someone you know has SPD, it is the unusual and persistent reactions to touch or movement which can make life challenging that you should be looking out for.

We hope the information contained in this guide to our senses and SPD makes it easier to spot these signs.

There are typically three types of SPD: Sensory Modulation, Sensory Discrimination and Sensory Motor.

Signs of SPDWe hope these resources have helped you understand more about our senses and SPD and the help and advice available to you.

Why not take a look at our wide range of high quality products designed specifically for parents and children with sensory processing disorder?