Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Sensory Sensitive or Sensory Seeking? Understanding Sensory Processing

The Eight Sensory Systems

“It’s too loud! Can you turn down the volume?”

“No hugs! Stop touching me!”

“If he keeps eating, he’s going to gag himself again!”

“Why is he rocking back and forth?”

Have you ever heard these phrases? If you have, you are probably familiar with sensory processing. Without us knowing it, our bodies perform infinite amount of processes within seconds to keep us alive, one of them being the process of deciphering sense signals (sensory processing). In elementary school, we all learned the basic five senses, but there are three less well-known systems that make an impact on all of us. The Star Institute goes more in depth on what each sensory system is responsible for.



Easterseals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain released a video that explains each sensory system from a child’s point of view, and how any given system(s) might be under- or over-responsive for individuals. This might look like someone being really sensitive to loud noises (over-responsive sound system) while also seeking more physical movement like spinning (under-responsive vestibular system). The combinations of sensitive/over-responsive and seeking/under-responsive possibilities are many, and each one of us might experience one or a few of the options, but what matters is whether an individual functions with the sensory input their bodies receive.

How to Know When Your Child Needs Extra Support

There are certain signs your child gives subliminally or outwardly that can show you they need help with their sensory processing: repeatedly expressing heightened anxiety in similar situations, having multiple physical or potty accidents after an appropriate age to be potty trained, avoiding certain environments, not calming down unless firmly hugged, etc. Understood delineates certain things parents can do to help their child with their sensory processing issues, if functional living is only mildly disrupted:

      1. Avoid or minimize identified triggers.
      2. Prepare child for situations with triggers and come up with strategies to lessen stress.
      3. Control certain environmental factors (bright lights, noise volume, etc.)
      4. Set sensory breaks to satisfy needs of either under- or over-responsive senses.
      5. Create a sensory toolbox when traveling.

When there are certain senses or triggers parents do not know how to manage, or when the child’s sensory processing issues seem to be very disruptive, the same Understood article evaluates the help specialists (like Occupational Therapists) have to offer:

      1. Qualified to identify and create treatment plans.
      2. Run specific tests to find systems that are under- and/or over-responsive.
      3. Create sensory “diets” which are activities and accommodations to sensory input that your child needs.
      4. Problem-solve in ways parents may not know how to.
      5. Offer Sensory Integration therapy, if deemed appropriate.


Although sensory processing issues might be disconcerting at first glance, there is hope and tools that parents and professionals can use to help each child start to thrive and enjoy life around them. If not sure what to try or where to turn, you can always talk to a Parent Support Specialist or Child Development Specialist at Help Me Grow Utah to discover reliable tips and/or agencies that may be just what your child needs.

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