Sensory processing difficulties occur when a person finds it difficult to process and interpret sensory information (e.g. touch, taste or smell). It Sensory processing difficulties occur when a person finds it difficult to process and interpret sensory information (learn more about the eight different senses here). It may affect one sense or several of these. Difficulties processing sensory information can lead to differences in responses to certain stimuli. For example, a sound that one person can cope with may be overly loud or painful to other people. Sensory processing differences can affect one or more of the senses and is more common in autistic people. Find out more on our page on sensory processing differences.
Difficulties in processing sensory information can also make it harder to plan and organise body movements. There are two main types of sensory-based motor disorders. Postural disorders involve balance and coordinate both the left/right side of the body, while Dyspraxia involves difficulties in planning and processing body movements. To produce movements there are three main stages:
- Ideation (deciding what movement you want to make)
- Motor Planning (Identifying how to carry out the movement)
- Execution (the brain sends signals to the muscles to carry out the movement)
Difficulties at any of these stages can lead to difficulties in coordinating and processing certain movements and these can be impacted by difficulties processing sensory information. For example, if someone has difficulties with proprioception, they may find it harder to register the distance between them and the object they want to pick up, meaning that they over or under reach for the item. Difficulties with motor movements can affect people with sensory processing difficulties to different extents depending on which senses are affected and how. Below are examples of how difficulties with processing the different sensory systems can lead to difficulties with movement:
Vestibular System (balance and coordinating movement):
- It may be easier to lose your balance such as when climbing stairs, riding a bike or jumping. This can also affect everyday routines such as when changing direction when walking
- It can also be easier to lose balance when both feet are not on the ground such when walking on the tips of your toes
- It can be harder to carry out new tasks based on your own knowledge as well as carrying out unfamiliar movements
Proprioception (feedback from muscles/joints in the body):
- Difficulties knowing where parts of your body are, making you more prone to being clumsy by tripping, falling and bumping into objects.
- It can also be more difficult to catch yourself after you begin falling
Tactile System (Touch):
- Finding it difficult to complete fine motor movements such as holding a pencil to write or draw, fastening buttons or putting on gloves
- It may also be harder to complete tasks which involve several steps such as cooking or putting on nail varnish
- You may have difficulties eating and swallowing certain foods
Other difficulties could include:
- Gripping objects loosely or too tightly
- Finding it more difficult to adjust the body for certain tasks such as preparing to catch or throw a ball
- Coordinating both sides of the body to perform tasks such as jumping
- Difficulties coordinating multiple tasks at once e.g., writing at the same time as looking at the teacher.
- Taking longer to learn to do new movements or activities