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Sensory Difficulties

Our 7 Senses

Our Seven Senses


Sight or vision is the capability of the eyes to focus and detect images of visible light and generate electrical nerve impulses for varying colours, hues, and brightness.  Visual perception is how the brain processes these impulses – recognising, differentiating and interpreting visual stimuli through comparison with experiences made earlier in life.


Hearing, or audition, is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations, changes in the pressure of the surrounding medium through time, through an organ such as the ear.   As with sight, auditory processing relies on how the brain interprets, recognises and differentiates sound stimuli.


Touch, or somatosensory, is a perception resulting from activation of neural receptors, generally in the skin including hair follicles and a variety of pressure receptors respond to variations in pressure (firm, brushing, sustained, etc.).

The somatosensory system is a diverse sensory system that is spread through all major parts of our body. At its simplest, the system works when activity in a sensory receptor is triggered by a specific stimulus (such as heat); this signal eventually passes to an area in the brain uniquely attributed to that area on the body and this allows the processed stimulus to be felt at the correct location.


Smell or olfaction is our ability to detect scent – chemical, odour molecules in the air.  Our olfactory system begins in our nose which has hundreds of olfactory receptors.  Odour molecules possess a variety of features and, thus, excite specific receptors more or less strongly.  This combination of excitement is interpreted by the brain to perceive the ‘smell’.


Taste, or gustation, refers to the capability to detect the taste of substances such as food, certain minerals, and poisons, etc. The sense of taste is often confused with the “sense” of flavour, which is a combination of taste and smell perception.

Humans receive tastes through sensory organs called taste buds concentrated on the upper surface of the tongue. There are five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami.

Vestibular (Balance)

The vestibular system explains the perception of our body in relation to gravity, movement and balance. The vestibular system measures acceleration, g-force, body movements and head position.  Examples of the vestibular system in practice include knowing that you are moving when you are in an elevator, knowing whether you are lying down or sat up, and being able to walk along a balance beam.

Proprioception (Body Awareness)

Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.  This sense is very important as it lets us know exactly where our body parts are, how we are positioned in space and to plan our movements.  Examples of our proprioception in practice include being able to clap our hands together with our eyes closed, write with a pencil and apply with the correct pressure, and navigate through a narrow space.


Sensory Overload

Hyper or Hypo


Individuals who are hypersensitive receive too much information from their senses, they have the inability to block out unimportant sensory input.


Individuals who are hypo sensitive do not register or receive enough on a sense or their brains have trouble/delay in processing the sensory input received.

Shut down and Compensatation

Sensory Shut Down

•Shutdowns happen when someone can’t deal with all the information coming in

•For example, Auditory may shut down to allow processing of other inputs

Sensory Compensation

• Compensation, a person may compensate through other more reliable senses to build a better understanding of their environment.

•For example, may touch or smell to gain an idea of the world around them


Supporting Sensory Difficulties

There are many simple things we can do to help someone with sensory difficulties try out these tips below:

•Changes to the environment to lower lights levels i.e. blinds

•Organised surfaces and work stations

•Visual aids to increase visual input

•Reducing external noises

•Ensure the attention of the person before giving verbal commands/input

•Ear defenders/plugs

•Use unscented shampoos and soaps

•Warning before touching individual

•Deep pressure activities like massage or weighted blankets

•Break activities down into steps with a  clear beginning and finish point

•Practise basic physical tasks like climbing stairs

•positioning furniture around the edge of a room to make navigation easier

•using the 'arm's-length rule' to judge personal space - this means standing an arm's length away from other people.

•Carry out fine motor skill activities

Sensory Profile

The sensory profile is used to give an indication of a child’s/adults sensory processing difficulties and allow recommendations to be suggested and put in place to help them manage their difficulties. It is not a replacement for a full sensory assessment carried out by a trained Occupational Therapist.


The program used to determine the profile of the user is designed by Snoezelen and askes ten questions about 6 areas of sensory integration i.e. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and movement. It asks about behaviours observed and then provides a score between 0-50 based on the responses given.

This can be purchased from here

Published 13/11/2019

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