Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sensory Solutions Part One:

In the next few entries I'd like to talk about the sensory system , sensory processing issues , and some solutions for these things that can commonly occur in people with neurological differences.  This will probably be a two or three part series, so that I can cover the topic thoroughly.  It's such an important area to address when dealing with disorders such as autism, asperger's and sometimes ADHD.  If we can get the sensory system operating optimally so many of what parents and clinicians call 'behaviors' would disappear.

The sensory system is a wonderful mechanism allowing us to process the world in our own private way.  We all have experiences in the sensory realm that is individual to us at any given moment.  We seek these experiences out, and are often equated to the feeling of what it means to be alive.  Memories are even stored around this information.  A certain smell of perfume, or sound of a song, or taste of dessert can bring us back in time years ago.  This is how potent and important our sensory experiences are to us as human beings.  However, as much as we put a high value on seeking out pleasant sensory experiences, it's equally unpleasant when our sensory systems don't work correctly.  We can get too much information at once making us feel attacked by our environment, or not enough information leading us to feel out of sorts and needing some input from our surroundings.

There are five sub-systems that make up  our sensory system:

1. Visual: This is the system in which allows us to visually interpret the world around us.

2. Auditory: the sense of hearing

3.  Somatosensory: This is the complex system we use to process touch. This one is the most diverse system we have, as it affects how we interpret  temperature, pain, body position, and tactile perceptions.

4. Gustatory: This is the system that processes taste such as, sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (which is a Japanese word meaning savory, or to describe a particularly delicious food)

5. Olfactory: or sense of smell

Sometimes, when the nervous system interprets signals differently or in an unorganized way our experience of the world gets out of whack.  Our response to certain smells, sounds, and sights as well as textures can feel like torture.  This is considered hypersensitivity.  When the environment does not provide enough input via our sensory system it's called hyposensitive.  From what I've noticed kids on the more severe end of the autism spectrum seem to be hyposensitive to sensory stimuli.  Their day is usual filled with self stimulatory (stims) activities designed to provide them  with the sensory input that they crave to feel comfortable.  Although, most people on the spectrum have varying degrees of being hyper and hypo-sensitive with different senses at different times. In order to help people with Sensory Processing Disorder a sensory diet may be implemented.  It's always best to consult with an Occupational Therapist to develop a plan to suit your child best, but that is not always possible for everyone.  I'll be sharing tips, as well as different tools to help develop a workable sensory diet for anyone needing help maintaining their sensory system.