Here are some common terms that you will see around the website.
Auditory system: This system is located in the ears and detects all noises.
Desensitisation: This is the process used to very gradually reduce sensory sensitivity. It involves very gradual and controlled exposure to the sensory input which the student has difficulty tolerating.
Gustatory system: This system is located on the tongue and in the mouth and detects different tastes.
Olfactory system: This system is located in our nose and airways and detects smells.
Proprioceptive system: This system is located in muscles and joints and gives us a sense of body awareness and movement. It also plays a part in regulating sensory input, keeping us calm and alert.
Sensory avoidant: This describes a child who is overresponsive to sensory input and responds by avoiding it or escaping from it. This may be in response to a generally overwhelming environment (e.g. dining hall, playground) or it may be in response to specific stimuli (e.g. noises, smells, tactile input).
An example of sensory avoidance is a student who refuses to participate in messy play, Art or Home Economic because he is fearful of the textures of the materials.
Another example of sensory avoidance is a student who runs out of Assembly because he cannot tolerate the noise.
Sensory defensive: This describes a child who is overresponsive to sensory input and responds in a negative way in an attempt to reduce the sensory input and to protect himself from the sensory input. This may be in response to a generally overwhelming environment, or it may be in response to specific stimuli:
Tactile defensive: Student cannot tolerate specific touch input e.g. people standing too close, the feeling of some materials in messy play and Art or the texture of some food.
Auditory defensive: Student cannot tolerate specific noises e.g. school bell, musical instruments or hand dryer.
An example of tactile defensiveness is a student who pushes a classmate who is standing close to him. He is fearful of the unpredictable touch input from the classmate (e.g. nudging, brushing past) and so pushes him to ensure more physical space.
An example of auditory defensiveness is a student who repeatedly switches off the data projector in the classroom because he cannot tolerate the noise.
Sensory Diet: This is an intervention approach introduced by Patricia Wilbarger in which the student accesses required sensory activities regularly throughout his day. It is an individualised programme designed to meet the unique sensory needs of each student.
Sensory modulation: This is the process in which the brain regulates the amount of sensory input received by the body. It selects the input which is relevant and therefore requires attention, and filters out/ignores the input which is irrelevant. Sensory modulation helps us to stay in the clam alert state so that we are sufficiently alert to participate in daily activities without becoming overwhelmed by sensory stimulation.
An example of sensory modulation is a child in a classroom who attends to the teacher’s voice and the information on the whiteboard while filtering out the noise of the data projector, classmates’ chatte, the smell of paint and the colourful display boards.
Sensory overresponsiveness: A student who is very aware of all sensory input in the environment and who is not filtering out background input is sensory overresponsive. This student will be very distracted by all the surrounding stimuli and may be irritated and distressed by sensory input. This can be in response to busy sensory environments (e.g. playground, dining hall) or it may be in response to specific sensory stimuli which the student has difficulty tolerating (e.g. school bell, labels on clothing, smell of food). Other terms used to describe sensory overresponsiveness include:
- Sensory sensitivity
- Sensory defensive
- Sensory avoidant
An example of sensory overresponsiveness is the student who is aware of all background noises (e.g. data projector, lawnmower, traffic) to the point of being unable to process the teacher’s voice and concentrate on work.
Another example of sensory overresponsiveness is the student who runs from the dining hall in a distressed state due to the overwhelming noises, smells and visual input of everyone moving around the room.
Sensory processing: The process in which the body receives, registers and integrates sensory input (e.g. sights, sounds, smells). This input is interpreted and appropriate responses are then made.
An example of sensory processing is touching a hot plate, registering that it is hot, understanding that this is harmful and responding by pulling the hand away from the plate. Another example is registering when someone has called our name and then responding by turning to look at them.
Sensory seeking: Some students crave increased sensory stimulation e.g. movement input, noise, tactile input. In some cases, this is because the student is sensory underresponsiveness and requires more stimulation to ‘switch on’ the brain. In other cases, it is because the student is sensory overresponsive and is therefore seeking increased sensory input in order to block out the unwanted stimulation.
An example of sensory seeking is a student who fidgets in his seat during written work and frequently gets up to run around the classroom. He is sensory underresponsive and is seeking movement to keep his brain alert.
Another example of sensory seeking is a student who sings loudly and flaps his hands close to his eyes in busy environments such as the dining hall and playground. He is sensory overresponsive and is seeking input to block out the stimulation which is finding distressing.
Sensory underresponsiveness: A student who is sensory underresponsiveness is not registering and responding to the sensory input around him. This student may appear to be disengaged and lethargic, and may seem to ignore people around him. The student is not receiving enough sensory input to ‘switch on’ the brain. The student may become more engaged in sensory rich environments and activities such as the playground and P.E. Other terms used to describe sensory underresponsiveness are:
An example of sensory underresponsiveness is the student who does not turn when his name is called and is unaware when he is tapped on the shoulder.
Another example of sensory underresponsiveness is the student who loses attention and becomes lethargic after several minutes of desktop work but becomes more engaged in practical subjects which involve increased sensory input e.g. Art, P.E., Music, Home Economics
Tactile system: This system is located all over our skin and detects any touch input, including light touch, deep touch, stretch and temperature.
Vestibular system: This system is located in the inner ear and detects movement input.
Visual system: This system is located in the eyes and detects all the sights around us.