Sensory processing

Young boy yells while another young boy covers his ears Sensory processing refers to the ability to take in information through the senses (vision, smell, taste, touch, hearing, vestibular and proprioception), organise and interpret that sensory input, and formulate an appropriate response. For most people this process is seamless and automatic. Many people on the autism spectrum however, report that sensory processing is very different for them. Differences in sensory processing, and resulting sensory based behaviours are now part of the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. It is widely accepted that people on the spectrum process information from their senses differently to others and that these differences can result in unusual behavioural responses and stress. 

Young people on the autism spectrum can be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to sensory input. This pattern of over-and under-sensitivity across the seven senses will vary considerably from individual to individual. Young people on the autism spectrum may experience heightened reactions to sensory input (e.g. find loud noises painful) or require more of a particular sensation to feel calm and regulated (e.g. may need a movement break to feel calm).A young person’s particular sensory profile, as well as the surrounding sensory environment and their stress levels at any given time, will influence the impact of sensory processing differences for that individual. 

How are sensory difficulties a barrier to accessing the curriculum?

  • Young people need to be in a calm alert state in order to learn and may find everyday sensory input difficult to cope with
  • They may be focused on, or distracted by a sensation (that others may not notice) and be unable to attend to the class activity (e.g. lights, fans, sounds outside the classroom)
  • Some will require certain sensory input in order to feel calm and organised enough to focus

Watch a video recording from one of our previous webinars about sensory processing. This webinar provides:

  • information about the key aspects of sensory processing
  • details about the possible impact/s of sensory processing differences
  • some strategies for reducing the negative impact of sensory processing difficulties