Sensory processing: What is it? How does it work?
Sensory processing refers to the collective process of Reception, Perception, Processing of information and Response to it. Information is being Received from the environment via our sense organs, (vision-eyes, hearing-ears, smell-nose, tongue- taste, nose-smell, skin- touch) as well from our body, through muscles and movement receptors.
This information is consolidated in the mid brain and perceived by the various specialized regions of the brain. This in formation is then processed using previously stored information or"made sense of" via communication between different parts of the brain.
This is followed by a response, in the form of a physical movement, speech or social behavior.
Hence, an impairment in one or more of the 4 processes namely,reception, perception, processing and response can lead to visible challenges in physical, speech and language as well as social behaviors.
Our muscle tone as well as the ability to perceive and respond to movement also provide feedback to the brain regarding the position of our body in space and hence our sense of well being, or feeling grounded.
Hence we truly have 7 sensations which provide input or sensory input to our brain.
Spontaneous and efficient acquisition of developmental processes is contingent upon synchronized working of all these processes.These are observed in the form of natural development of motor milestones, speech and language as well as cognitive and social emotional skills.
Intact processes of of reception, perception, processing and output or response form the building blocks of all acquired skills.
Motor skills such as sitting, creeping, walking running, reach, grasping and manipulation are centrally programmed skills. This alludes to the fact that these skills do not have to be taught. The human body is programmed to achieve these milestones with or without appropriate environmental conditions.
Language is however, an acquired skill,it is contingent upon afferent as well as efferent functions. Afferent pertains to incoming input or receptive language, also called as the understanding of verbal cues. Efferent refers to the ability to plan thoughts (ideation), execute planned thought and motor plan its verbalization.
Hence deficiencies in any of the above components will be observed in its earliest form as delayed motor skills, atypical motor skills, language and speech delays and resultant social emotional challenges from being unable to communicate and/or execute motor movements in order to fulfill basic needs for children.
A child with disturbances with processing movement and body position will be seen as atypical motor function, difficulties with balance and motor planning.
This concept forms the building blocks of understanding the complex process of sensory integration. This has now been measured through a breakthrough study at UCSF. Link https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kids.
Shilpa Sharma OTR/L.