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February 12, 2020

Occupational Therapy - How It Can Help Children with Sensory Processing Difficulties

Young boy looking up at a sensory, light up bubble tube

What is sensory processing?

Our senses (tactile, vision, auditory, smell/taste, movement/balance, and proprioception) allow us to interact with the world around us. Sensory processing is the way in which our brain receives information from our environment, “processes” the information and then creates a response to that specific sensory input. Sensory information is entering our brain from all systems simultaneously. It is important that all our sensory systems work together (sensory modulation) to allow for our brains to understand the information received.

If the sensory systems do not work together, this can result in a poor sensory response. A poor sensory response is when the brain is perceiving information more or less intense than the stimuli actually is. A poor response to sensory input can affect the child’s:

  • Attention
  • Behaviors
  • Social interaction
  • Ability to calm down once upset
  • Motor skill development
  • Language development
  • Overall participation in everyday activities 

When the body can receive, process and produce an appropriate response to sensory information, then the individual will be able to appropriately respond to life events and stressors. An example of this would be a person who is able to focus on a task in a noisy environment (e.g. driving, writing a report, focusing on schoolwork) instead of being distracted and unable to focus on their work.  

Hypersensitivity (over-responsivity) is when the sensory stimuli is perceived as being heightened/harmful leading to avoidance and sensory overload.

Hyposensitivity (under-responsivity) is when the child seeks out further sensory input to meet their individual sensory needs. 


Who can help with sensory processing disorders?

When sensory disorders are disrupting an individual from completing the activities that are necessary to function, then that individual may benefit from intervention from an Occupational Therapist who specializes in treating sensory processing and regulation difficulties.

Sensory integration techniques are used and often provided through a “sensory diet” to gradually expose a child to sensory input through repetition. An Occupational Therapist may also provide equipment recommendations or strategies that may help a client’s ability to tolerate or participate in certain environments where learning or interaction are difficult.


What does a poor sensory response look like?

Touch:  Irritated by tags or clothing fabrics, dislikes touch (unless on his/her terms), dislikes hair and nail grooming, avoids messy play, constantly touches people or things.

Sight:  Sensitive to bright or florescent lights, unable to focus in busy environments, always visually distracted, constantly seeking visual input (fast/bright colored shows, spinning objects, lights on/off).

Sound: Covers ears when overwhelmed, startles or becomes upset with unexpected sounds (hair dryer, toilet flushing, airplanes, blender, etc.), doesn’t respond to name.

Smell and Taste: Moves away from odors, has an averseive response to strong smells (gags or vomits), doesn’t notice strong odors, very selective or rigid eater, mouthing non-food items.

Movement:  Dislikes swings or sudden movement, gravitational insecurities, resists diaper changes (laying on back), difficulty with car rides, delayed walking/crawling, constantly seeking movement through running, spinning, swinging, high or low activity level.

Body Awareness:  Uses too much or too little pressure, trips and falls often, constantly seeking activities with pushing, pulling, jumping or climbing, poor motor skill development, appears clumsy.


Sensory processing and modulation difficulties are commonly seen with:

  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Developmental delays
  • Down Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy

*It is also worth noting that sensory processing challenges can also occur with individuals who do not have a specific medical diagnosis or disorder.


We're Here to Help!

If you have concerns regarding your child’s development, and feel that his or her delays may be related to sensory processing difficulties, please talk with your pediatrician about seeking help from a licensed Occupational Therapist.

Our team of caring and knowledgeable therapists are available for evaluation of Sensory Processing Disorders and work with each patient to determine their individual goals. 

To get started, please contact our Curative New Berlin Therapies team by calling 262-782-9015 or request an appointment. We have caring, certified therapists who are experts in the latest treatment options and would love to help you thrive.  A physician referral is required for a therapy evaluation. 

Learn more about Curative New Berlin Therapies

Curative occupational therapist, Emily

Emily, Occupational Therapist

Emily, MS, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who works with children of all ages and abilities including: Cerebral Palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory processing, developmental delays, neurological disorders, fine motor delays, visual motor delays, and handwriting difficulties. Emily has a Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy from Mount Mary University and specialized training in Therapeutic Listening and Learning Without Tears (Pre-K and K-5 handwriting). She strives to incorporate a multi-sensory approach into her treatment sessions to maximize the child's engagement,  participation, and functional outcomes in therapy. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, being outdoors, skiing, cooking, and traveling. 

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