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Sensory with Sallerson

Not familiar with sensory processing? Don’t fret, Imua Family Services Occupational Therapist Angella Sallerson OTR/L draws from her years of experience running a private practice on the East Coast and now as an Imua Family Services Occupational Therapist on Maui’s blue coast. Sallerson breaks it down for us in this first installation of “Sensory with Sallerson”!

Photo courtesy of TheAutismHelper.com

Photo courtesy of TheAutismHelper.com

What is it?

Sensory Processing is how your brain takes in sensory information from the environment, through various places in your body in order to help you to see (eyes), smell (nose), hear (ears) balance (vestibular and eyes), know if you are moving or something else is moving (vestibular) learn new motor movements (touch and muscles and joints (proprioception), and know if something is soft, scratchy, hot, cold etc. (skin).

If any of these systems are not working well, it can affect your attention, learning, state of arousal, refinement of motor development, communication and other daily activities that we all take for granted.


                Some people are extremely sensitive to smells. Some smells such as the smells of soap, perfume, cooking odors can cause aggravation,  a headache, or just leave the area of the smell. Many neuro-typical adults have this difficulty.


                Some people are very sensitive to sounds such as toilets flushing, whistling, clapping, lots of talking, vacuums, weed whackers or other lawn equipment, hair dryers, blenders etc. Some sounds (high or low) can be bothersome while others do not bother the person. Some children do well with noise blocking headphones and cannot go outside without them. These people may not listen even though they can hear and so will not respond when people talk to them or respond to dangerous sounds such as a car coming on a street.


                Some people are very sensitive to too much visual input (Autistic people).  They can become very over excited unable to focus or go into shutdown where they go inside themselves being unable to take in so much information. These people do better in a visually calm environment with no open book cases or lots of pictures or decorations in their environment. The school environment can be especially irritating for them due to the amount of learning things that are placed on the walls.


                This system is your skin. It feels the texture, temperature, if you are injured, pressure touch (massage), light touch (light tickling) and what objects are (steriognosis) by feel. When the skin is not working well it can send misinformation to the brain. It can make the brain think that the person is going to be hurt by textures that cannot really hurt them such as a hair brush or a toothbrush. This fear of touching can put a person into Fight Flight where they can become very aggressive or run away. If the skin is not feeling things very well, the person may be clumsy with their hand, unable to manipulate objects such as buttons or fasteners. They may hold things too tight or too loose.  This system works closely with the proprioceptive system (muscles and joints) in order to have good motor planning in order to learn new skills and then apply them to similar activities.


                This system is information coming from your muscles and joints. This system tells your brain where your body is. You know where your legs are without looking at them or your hands are without looking at them. This system paired with the touch system (skin) helps you to have good motor planning. This system helps you to be coordinated as it sends information up to the Cerebellum. This system paired with touch gives you control of force so you know how tight to hold something. Some kids with difficulties in this area tend to be too rough or will pinch without meaning to hurt.


                This system is behind your ear drum. It is your gyroscope and is responsible for information regarding what is up, balance and all of the balance reactions. It is paired with vision. It is also where waking up and going asleep come from. It helps us with attention by working with the brain stem to filter out unwanted information. It touches almost all parts of the body including bowel/bladder, hunger, and movement activities. If this system if not working well the person may be totally afraid of moving their head, feel dizzy, think they are going to fall, get seasick easily, and have poor balance reactions and sluggish eye movements. They may have poor bilateral coordination (using two hands together). Some people with dysfunction in this system still have primitive reflexes such as ATNR which affects the use of their arms and legs.

-Angela Sallerson (Imua Family Services)

 Stay Tuned: Next- Red flags of poorly functioning sensory processing