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Making Sense of Sensory Processing

Updated: Jul 11, 2022




Sensory Processing is a universal human experience that describes the registration and interpretation of information from our internal/external environments as well as our responses to these sensations. There are 4 basic patterns of sensory processing:

  1. Seekers,

  2. Avoiders,

  3. Sensors, and

  4. Bystanders.


These patterns occur along a nervous system threshold continuum of high to low, and a self-regulation strategy continuum of passive to active. Bystanders

and seekers both have high thresholds and need additional input to notice sensory stimuli, however, bystanders take a passive approach whereas seekers are active. That’s why bystanders tend to miss more cues and seekers tend to be more engaged in sensory experiences than others. On the other hand, avoiders and sensors have low thresholds and are quick to notice sensory stimuli. Sensors react more intensely than others while avoiders flee from overwhelming sensory stimuli. Supporting sensory processing patterns in everyday life requires an understanding of an individual’s processing pattern and the demands of activity or context. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Seekers: add sensory value or variety to everyday activities.

  2. Avoiders: decrease or organize sensory experiences of daily tasks.

  3. Sensors: provide structured patterns of sensory experiences.

  4. Bystanders: increase intensity and familiarity with sensory experiences in everyday tasks.

An occupational therapist can provide an in-depth evaluation and coaching to increase self-awareness of sensory preferences and strategies that include helpful and distressing elements in daily occupations (i.e. activities).


References


Andersson, H., Sutton, D., Bejerholm, U. & Argentzell, E. (2021) Experiences of sensory input in daily occupations for people with serious mental illness, Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 28:6, 446-456, DOI: 10.1080/11038128.2020.1778784


Individuals With Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum Show Sensory Processing Differences as Measured by the Sensory Profile - Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Quadrants-of-the-Sensory-Profile_fig1_269876183 [accessed 21 Jun 2022]


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