Introduction to our Sensory Systems
If you have kids or been around parents of young kids, the word 'sensory' may be thrown around a bit. Sensory bins, sensory processing, sensory sensitivity, and sensory seeker, are just some of the common terms you might hear. So what is the big deal? Why are our sensory systems so important?
Sensory processing and integration is foundational to development, daily functioning skills, participation in activities, learning and overall psychological well-being. Sensory processing is our brain's ability to take in all the input we receive from our eight sensory systems and use it effectively. Our responses to the different sensory inputs are known as adaptive responses. Sometimes children are unable to respond appropriately which impacts their daily functioning, attention, emotions, social skills, gross and fine motor skills and well-being.
So how can we make sure our children develop their sensory systems in order to learn appropriate adaptive responses? Providing early childhood experiences is the first step to developing a child's sensory system. This is also crucial to being able to identify sensory processing challenges as early as possible. Providing appropriate interventions that influence the nature of the early childhood experiences can improve developmental outcomes. Below is a quick overview of our eight sensory systems and activities you can start doing with the little kids in your life.
Visual - sense of sight
The sense of vision uses the eyes to collect information the brain then interprets. The visual system works closely with the other senses to help us safely navigate and locate objects in our environments. Visual activities and input help children develop visual perception skills, visual motor skills, visual attention, and eye muscle control.
Activities for visual development
High contrast, black-and-white cards or books for the babies
Mirror play during tummy time with babies
Reading books and specifically pointing and touching the items in the book while you’re reading
Going on walks outside and pointing and naming objects in the environment
Blowing and popping bubbles
Completing mazes or dot-to-dots
Auditory - sense of hearing
Our auditory system allows our brain to process sounds, tune out sounds that are not important, locate where sounds are coming from, detect pitch, and detect sound level. This sense also allows us to take in sound information, process it, and generate an appropriate response. This sense is important for listening skills, communication, and social skills. Each child will process and react to sounds differently. Try these activities with your child and notice how they respond to different sounds and noise levels.
Activities for auditory development
Listen to music and interactive songs
Make household noises around babies but let them know it is happening and get them involved
Using the blender
Listen and name
Tactile - sense of touch
The tactile system utilizes receptors in the skin to detect information of items we touch. This system allows us to determine what we are touching without using our vision. Tactile activities help children develop appropriate adaptive responses, develop body awareness and assist in motor planning development. Try the activities below and note how your child responds to each one, the different tactile inputs they prefer or not prefer and how it makes their body feel.
Activities for tactile development
Walk outside bare foot
Writing with a vibrating pen
Cook or bake with an adult
Olfactory - sense of smell
The olfactory system allows us to detect the different odors around us and differentiate between odors that are strong, faint, pleasurable, or dangerous. This system also assists in creating flavors we taste and is linked to our memories that could have an affect on our mood. Activities that target the olfactory system will help develop this system and provide us with an understanding of how different scents can impact our emotions.
Activities for olfactory development
Drawing with scented markers
Using herbs or spices in craft projects
Scratch and sniff stickers
Scented dough with essential oils
Gustatory - sense of taste
The gustatory system allows us to detect and perceive different flavors. Flavors that are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory, and help us determine if we like it or not. These activities will help children to acquire acceptance of different flavors with food and drinks and further categorize those flavors based on their texture and temperature.
Activities for gustatory development
Allow your child to explore food with their hands (get messy!!)
Explore foods with different textures, tastes, and temperatures
Suck milkshakes, applesauce, or yogurt through a straw
Use cookie cutters to make different shapes of bread, cheese, or lunch meat
Suck on an orange
Vestibular - sense of head movement in space. Movement and positions of head relative to gravity
The vestibular system gives us information of how our body is moving in space. This system helps our balance, coordination and posture. Everyone has unique responses to movement. It can be calming, organizing, alerting, or disorganizing depending on the type of movement and the sensitivity of the individual. Be cautious of the length of time and intensity of each of these activities and pay close attention to your child's unique adaptive response.
Activities for vestibular development
Sit 'n spin
Riding a bike
Rolling on the floor
Ride a rocking horse
Proprioception - sensations from muscles and joints of the body. Position, location, orientation, and movement of the body muscles and joints
The proprioceptive system allows us to understand where our body is in space. It is stimulated when we push or pull on objects. The activities below may benefit a child's attention and improve their adaptive responses to inputs from other sensory systems.
Activities for proprioceptive development
Climbing on playground equipment
Pushing or pulling a wagon
Theraputty or playdough
Playing catch with a weighted ball
Interoception - internal sense
Interoception is the sense of our internal organs. It provides us with information on hunger, heart rate, bladder and bowel function, thirst, and butterflies in stomach. This system can greatly impact our emotional responses, independence, social skills, and safety.
Activities to development interceptive system
Labeling internal body parts
Deep breathing exercises
Labeling different emotions
Taking your heart rate during/after different activities
Our sensory systems all work together in order for us to successfully navigate and interact with the world around us. When our sensory systems are not functioning appropriately it can cause dysfunction in our everyday tasks. Focusing on sensory development early in life will allow for appropriate adaptive responses to be created. If you have questions about sensory development or sensory processing, schedule a free 30-minute consult on my booking page or email me at email@example.com