Have you ever wondered how you learn about the world around you? You get information from your environment in so many different ways, but what exactly is going on? Try closing your eyes to complete a familiar task or put on headphones to watch TV. You get a completely different experience when you change or remove a sensory system. Sensory processing refers to the brain's ability to receive, organize and effectively use information provided to us from all of our senses: vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, proprioception, vestibular and interoception. So, what exactly are those eight senses?
The tactile system is often the most commonly recognized sensory system since it is anything you touch or feel.
The gustatory system is the system in your mouth that recognizes tastes.
The auditory system includes hearing, listening, interpreting and localizing sounds and being able to filter out sounds.
The visual system includes seeing what is far and close to us using smooth and precise eye movements to scan and assess the environment.
The olfactory system interprets the odors allowing you to enjoy various scents as well as protecting you from noxious ones.
The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and helps you to detect changes in regard to gravity and movement.
The proprioceptive system is an internal sense that allows you to know where your body is in space by interpreting the contraction, stretching and compression of your joints and muscles.
The interoceptive system is an internal sensory system that is located in the organs, muscles and skin. It identifies the sensations of hunger, thirst, bathroom needs and your body’s temperature.
Some children have difficulty interpreting these senses and may need more or less input than you or me. This inefficient processing of information may impact their educational, social and emotional development. Pediatric therapists with special training in this area can provide individualized sensory integration treatment using playful, meaningful activities that enhance the child’s sensory intake to promote adaptive responses for improved daily functioning within their life roles.
Ruth Bourque, OTR/L, Pediatric Occupational Therapist