Sensory processing issues

6 Terms to Know If Your Child Has Sensory Processing Issues

By The Understood Team

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You might come across these terms as you learn more about sensory processing issues (sometimes called “sensory processing disorder”). Understanding terminology can make it easier to talk to teachers, doctors and specialists about sensory processing issues.

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Sensory integration

Often used synonymously with “sensory processing.” This refers to the way sensations (how something feels, looks or smells, for example) are organized by the brain. How your brain organizes a sensation determines how your body reacts to it. Problems with sensory integration are the root of sensory processing issues.

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Being sensitive to things others consider normal. Kids with sensory processing issues show signs of hypersensitivity in different ways. They might push back from a hug or scream when water is splashed on their face. Explore more signs of sensory processing issues.

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A lack of sensitivity to sensations. It’s essentially the opposite of hypersensitivity. Kids with sensory processing issues might not react to unpleasant experiences (like falling off the monkey bars) the same ways other kids would. They might be indifferent to sensations other kids would find pleasurable.

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Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems

The sympathetic nervous system is in charge of fight-or-flight responses. This is what dilates your pupils and increases your heart rate as a reaction to stress or danger. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for calming the body. This is what lowers your heart rate once a stressful situation is over. Some studies suggest these systems don’t function typically in people with sensory processing issues. They might be easily jolted into fight-or-flight mode or have trouble calming down after a tantrum.

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Proprioceptive and vestibular senses

The two senses you might not have heard of. Most of us are familiar with the five senses—taste, touch, sound, smell and sight. But there are two others. The proprioceptive sense deals with the position of the body. Some call it “muscle sense.” The vestibular sense can be thought of as the sense of balance. Trouble with either of these senses might make a child appear clumsy.

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Occupational therapy

A process in which people learn skills for doing everyday tasks. They might be recovering from an injury or adjusting to some other situation. Occupational therapists can help kids with sensory processing issues learn to react more appropriately to sensations. One way they do this is by having kids practice activities that challenge more than one sense at a time and in different settings. Find out more about occupational therapy.

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6 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Visual Sensitivity

Kids with sensory processing issues can be over- or undersensitive to visual stimulation. This can make everything from studying to falling asleep a challenge. Here are some ways to help your child cope with visual sensitivity.

7 Ways to Help Your Child Cope With Noise Sensitivity

Kids who struggle with sensory processing issues can be highly sensitive to noise. This can make everything from grocery shopping to school fire drills a challenge. Your child’s clinicians can help find long-term solutions, but here are some in-the-moment ways to help your child cope with noise sensitivity.

About the Author

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The Understood Team is composed of writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Sheldon Horowitz

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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