Sensory System and Related Information


Sensory processing is how information is taken in,organized and acted on.  Childrencontinually process input from the environment through their senses.  The senses work together smoothly andefficiently to lead to an alert and prepared to learn level of arousal for mostchildren in school.  Some children’ssystems do not function as well and can be in a state of over-arousal orunder-arousal throughout the school day. The same children can also fluctuate from one extreme to the other fromday to day or even hour to hour. 

A state of arousal that is prepared to learn means a childis focused, relaxed and able to attend to the environment.  The child can effortlessly maintain anupright posture, keep head up/forward and switch attention to relevant stimuliwith ease (for example, listen to teacher while background noise is filteredout). 

A child who is easily over-aroused may have difficultyattending in the classroom.  Loud orunexpected noises, unusual smells, excess visual stimuli, postural instabilityor irritation from touch can all be very distracting.  Too much stimuli can also lead to shut downwhen the child tunes out the environment due to the high level of stress thatis felt. 

A child who is under-aroused may have difficulty maintainattention due to lack of alertness.  Thistype of child receives little feedback from the body and may appear tired ordisinterested.  A child with poor bodyawareness may over rely on vision to know how to move his body and appearclumsy or fearful of movement. 

Sensory input can be very powerful to children.  It is important to monitor their seeking,their responses and to respect their choices. Some students have a delayed response or an over reactive response toinput; monitor if they are not tolerant.   

Swinging and spinning are significant forms of sensoryinput (when combined, especially!!) Watch for signs of distress (flushing orwhitening of face, nausea, dilated or restricted pupils, sweating, increasedrespiratory rate).  Tactile input,especially light touch, can be distracting or noxious to a child with tactiledefensiveness; monitor and do not impose if they are not tolerant. 

Basic Concepts/Activities fordifferent areas:

TACTILE INPUT:  Activities that involve touch or oralchoices.  Light touch is usually notorganizing.  Tactile exploration shouldbe coupled with deep pressure activities.


Playing in sandbox/salt tray

Exploring different textures in box of any of thefollowing:

            Birdseed,uncooked rice or beans, sand, shaving cream

Looking for different things in those types of media

Put hand in a bag of familiar objects and guess what it isby touch alone

Finger painting, shaving cream, gak, glue, feather, kooshballs, etc

Play doh, stress ball


ORAL INPUT:  the mouth has many sensory receptorsincluding taste, proprioceptors, and touch/texture receptors.  For some children, providing variety of foodsor oral stimuli can help with organizing sensory information as well as thedevelopment of fine motor skills.


Provide variety of snacks (crunchy, chewy, hard, sweet,sour, salty)

Provide snacks during fine motor or times when child hasto concentrate (alerting foods arespicy, crunchy, sour and/or cold…calmingfoods are chewy foods or having to suck through a straw…can do that withyogurt)

Water bottle with straw top at the desk (having to suck)

Resistive chew tug and pull (bite on twisted licoricedon’t let person take it)

Blow/Suck straw activities.  Can have them suck regular yogurt or puddingthrough milkshake straw so extra work!!

Add granola, nuts or cereal to yogurt for added crunch andinput


VESTIBULAR INPUT:  movement activities that stimulate the middle ear that can organize or bring to heightened alertness.



Riding a Bike

Jumping on a trampoline

Roller Skating, skate board, scooter

Hoppity hop ball

Running, jumping

Rolling on ground or in barrel

Forward Rolls

Sitting on uneven surface like a pillow, cushion or rolled-up sweatshirt

PROPRIOCEPTION:  This type of input usually has calming andorganizing effects.  These are consideredheavy work activities or activities that use the big muscles of the body andcompress the joints.


Carrying heavy backpack                                          Swimming                  

Jumping                                                                      Climbing

Moving chairs or furniture                                           Squeeze putty or resistive ball / squeeze toy

Carrying stack of heavy books                                   Weighted lap pad, weighted vest

Pushups (floor, chair, wall)                                                     compression vest, under armor

Eating something chewy, resistive, hard                                            clothing/tight fitting clothing

Rough housing games

Tug of War                                                                  Sittingin bean bag chair

Wheelbarrow walking                                                  Wrapup tight in a blanket/tuck in at night

Sensory input may have different effects on individualstudents.  Being aware of the environmentand how it may be effecting the child can be key to understanding theirbehavior.  Very general responses tovarious stimuli are listed below:

ALERTING                                                              CALMING

Bright lights                                                              Lowlights

Loud music                                                                Softmusic

Fast unpredictable movements                              Slow, rhythmical movements

Light touch                                                                Deeppressure

Spicy, crunchy, sour foods                                     Chewyfoods/straw/suck

Jumping                                                                     Rocking

Fast respirations                                                       Slow,deep breaths

Heavy perfumes/fragrances                                                Soothing smells (lavender)


Certain sensory stimuli can last for several hours.  As a general rule:

PROPRIOCEPTIVE:  (deeppressure, heavy work) can have a lasting effect of up to 2 hours; VESTIBULAR:(swinging, etc) lasting effect up to 6 hours; TACTILE: (touch processing) canhave a lasting effect up to 1 hour

Often good to follow vestibular or tactile input withproprioceptive to “settle” the child.