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Understanding Your Child’s Sensory System

Mar 13th, 2024 | by Sydney Myers, OTR/L, CNS, CSRS

Sydney Myers, OTR/L, CNS, CSRS

March 13th, 2024

From the moment we wake until we rest, our sensory system guides us through every interaction, shaping our emotions, decisions, and connections.

Understanding the Sensory System: An Overview of the 7 Senses

Our sight, sound, touch, taste, balance (vestibular), interoception, and smell, give us a better understanding of where our body is in space and how we can interact within our environment. All of these 7 senses work together to teach us about our world and our place in it. For some, sensory processing can present challenges, leading to difficulties in everyday activities.

1. Sight

Our sense of sight is perhaps the most dominant of all senses, allowing us to gather information about our surroundings. Sight is not merely the act of seeing but also involves complex processes of interpretation and recognition. We perceive depth, motion, and color through our eyes, enriching our experiences and shaping our understanding of the world.

2. Sound

Sound is a fundamental aspect of human communication and expression, allowing us to engage with music, language, and the sounds of nature. Our sense of hearing enables us to detect subtle nuances in pitch, tone, and rhythm, facilitating social interactions, and enhancing our appreciation of auditory stimuli.

3. Touch

Touch is not only a means of physical interaction but also serves as a powerful form of communication and emotional connection. The sense of touch provides crucial feedback about textures, temperatures, and pressure, guiding our interactions with objects and others.

4. Taste

Taste is not just about identifying flavors; it encompasses a complex interplay of sensory, cultural, and social factors. Our taste preferences are shaped by genetics, past experiences, and cultural influences. When a person is sensitive to a specific texture or taste, it can negatively impact nutritional health and social engagement.

5. Balance/Vestibular

The vestibular system, located within the inner ear, plays a crucial role in maintaining balance, posture, and spatial orientation. If this is impacted, it can make postural control, coordination, and overall physical confidence more difficult and prevent children, or adults, to participate in daily activities and navigate their environment.

6. Interoception

Interoception refers to our awareness of internal bodily sensations, including hunger, thirst, pain, and emotional arousal. By helping individuals recognize and respond to their internal signals, we can better support emotional regulation, stress management, and overall well-being.

7. Smell

Our sense of smell is intricately linked to our emotions, memories, and perceptions of the world. It can assist in promoting relaxation, mood regulation, and sensory exploration. From the comforting scent of home-cooked meals to the invigorating aroma of fresh flowers, smells have the power to transport us through time and space. Smell is closely linked to taste, enhancing our enjoyment of food and contributing to our overall sensory experience.

Understanding How the Sensory System Works 

Understanding the complexities of our sensory system is essential for promoting well-being and participation in daily activities. By appreciating the roles of sight, taste, touch, smell, balance, interoception, and hearing, we gain insight into the richness of human experience. In celebrating the diversity of sensory experiences, we aim to foster self-awareness and resilience. Through personalized care and a deep understanding of sensory wellness, we empower individuals to live life to the fullest.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

For Further Reading:

  • Sensational Kids by Lucy Jane Miller
  • Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz

About the Author

Sydney Myers is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center in Chicago. She has loved working in pediatrics however has also worked with adults in hospital and inpatient rehab settings. She loves going on hikes with her dog and traveling.

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to pediatric therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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