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Prif Fordwyaeth

The 8 Senses and Sensory Systems


Our perceptions of both our bodies and surroundings are significantly influenced by our sensory systems. The integration of sensory information by our minds and bodies is crucial for everyday activities, impacting self-regulation, social interactions, and essential daily tasks.

For a considerable period, conventional wisdom maintained that humans possess five primary sensory systems: touch, smell, taste, vision, and sound. However, recent years have seen growing recognition of three additional "hidden" sensory systems. These concealed systems, namely the vestibular, proprioception, and interoception systems, have garnered increasing attention. These systems, not immediately apparent, have a profound impact on our experiences and interactions.

The 5 Classic Senses

The foundational five senses encompass touch, hearing, sight, taste, and smell. These senses facilitate the collection of information about the external world, ensuring safety and awareness of our surroundings.

Tactile Sensation

Tactile receptors spread across our skin, relaying signals to our brains when we make physical contact and furnishing us with information about the nature of contact. Tactile sensations include touch, pressure, pain, vibration, temperature, and texture. Individuals can exhibit hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to tactile input.

Tactile Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity).

Individuals with tactile under-responsivity might not fully register tactile experiences, inadvertently bumping into objects or not noticing contact. Seeking more input, they may fidget or touch things frequently.

Tactile Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Limited awareness of touch.
  • Good pressure sense (possibly applying too much).
  • Enjoyment of deep pressure activities.
  • Unintentional harm to others due to unawareness of pressure.
  • Seeking deep pressure.
  • Limited recognition of dirt on skin or runny nose.
  • Enjoyment of fidgeting and touching objects.
  • Fondness for extreme temperatures.

Strategies for Tactile Under-Responsivity:

  • Carry fidget toys for tactile input.
  • Consider constrictive clothing or weighted items.
  • Explore various textures mindfully.
  • Engage in sensory play.
  • Incorporate tactile experiences into daily routine.

Tactile Over-Responsivity (Hypersensitivity).

Tactile over-responders are exceptionally sensitive to touch and might exhibit aversions to certain fabrics, textures, or even clothing tags.

Tactile Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Aversion to touch and specific textures.
  • Difficulty with grooming and hygiene tasks.
  • Intolerance of stickiness or mess.
  • Strong reaction to minor touches.
  • Sensitivity to temperature changes.
  • Discomfort with face-related activities.
  • Preference for specific food temperatures.

Strategies for Tactile Over-Responsivity:

  • Opt for sensory-friendly clothing.
  • Utilise mild toothpaste.
  • Communicate personal boundaries.
  • Incorporate visual supports.
  • Self-advocate for sensory differences

Auditory Perception

Auditory receptors within the inner ear detect loudness, softness, pitch, and rhythm of sounds. These inputs shape our understanding of sound-related information.

Auditory Under-Responsivity.

Individuals with auditory under-responsivity may miss subtle sounds and directions, appearing inattentive. They might seek intense auditory experiences.

Auditory Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Inattention to sounds.
  • Difficulty with auditory directions.
  • Seeking intense auditory stimuli.
  • Limited responsiveness due to auditory differences.

Strategies for Auditory Under-Responsivity:

  • Utilize visual supports for attention.
  • Watch media with subtitles.
  • Request audio recordings of important information.
  • Communicate auditory processing differences.

Auditory Over-Responsivity.

Those with auditory over-responsivity are sensitive to auditory input, potentially experiencing discomfort and distractions from everyday noises.

Auditory Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Negative reactions to various sounds.
  • Distraction by auditory stimuli.
  • Heightened responses to specific sounds.
  • Potential under-reactivity.

Strategies for Auditory Over-Responsivity:

  • Employ sound-blockers and reducers.
  • Reduce noise pollution.
  • Opt for quiet, well-ventilated spaces.
  • Utilize soundproofing techniques.

Visual Perception

Visual stimuli are detected by receptors in the eye, conveying details about colour, shape, movement, and contrast. This sensory system aids in directing our attention and actions.

Visual Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity).

Visual under-responders might struggle to perceive subtle distinctions in visual elements, often seeking more visual input.

Visual Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Enjoyment of bright, reflective, or spinning objects.
  • Challenges spotting objects in complex backgrounds.
  • Difficulty identifying colours, shapes, and sizes.

Strategies for Visual Under-Responsivity:

  • Engage with visual stimuli (e.g., lava lamps).
  • Reduce visual clutter.
  • Create visual structure for improved processing.

Visual Over-Responsivity (Hypersensitivity)

Individuals with visual over-responsivity are hypersensitive to visual input, possibly experiencing physical discomfort in response to certain visual stimuli.

Visual Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Strong aversion to bright lights and environments.
  • Discomfort with specific visual patterns.
  • Sensitivity to environmental visuals.
  • Aversion to crowded places.

Strategies for Visual Over-Responsivity:

  • Minimize visual clutter.
  • Opt for dim or natural lighting.
  • Take breaks from visually intense environments.
  • Use sunglasses outdoors.

Gustatory Sensation

Taste receptors on the tongue identify distinct flavours like sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and spicy. Individuals may display hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to taste stimuli.

Gustatory Under-Responsivity (Sensory Seeking).

Individuals under-responsive to taste may crave strong flavours, leading them to seek out unique tastes and textures.

Gustatory Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Enjoyment of strong and spicy flavours.
  • Alertness after consuming intense flavours.
  • Desire for specific textures (e.g., crunchy).

Strategies for Gustatory Under-Responsivity:

  • Integrate diverse and interesting flavours into diet.
  • Include flavoured gum for focus.
  • Carry crunchy or chewy snacks.

Gustatory Over-Responsivity (Sensory Avoiding)

Those over-responsive to taste may display aversions to new foods, textures, and temperatures.

Gustatory Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Heightened sensitivity to food.
  • Limited food variety and aversion to new items.
  • Discomfort with mixed textures.
  • Avoidance of public eating situations.

Strategies for Gustatory Over-Responsivity:

  • Choose mellow-flavoured toothpaste.
  • Maintain a calm eating environment.
  • Create a list of "safe foods" for public settings.
  • Introduce new foods gradually and playfully.

Olfactory Sensation

Olfactory receptors in the nose process smells, triggering memories and emotions. Differences in olfactory processing can result in hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to smells.

Olfactory Under-Responsivity (Sensory Seeking).

Under-responsive individuals may not register strong smells, impacting their ability to detect potential dangers.

Olfactory Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Limited awareness of strong odours.
  • Difficulty identifying spoiled or harmful substances.
  • Frequent smelling of objects.

Strategies for Olfactory Under-Responsivity:

  • Utilise essential oils and scents.
  • Incorporate scented play items.
  • Engage in scent-based activities.

Olfactory Over-Responsivity (Sensory Avoiding).

Over-responsive individuals are sensitive to smells, often reacting strongly to environmental scents.

Olfactory Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Strong reactions to various smells.
  • Physical responses like nausea and headaches.
  • Avoidance of specific scents.

Strategies for Olfactory Over-Responsivity:

  • Opt for fragrance-free products.
  • Maintain well-ventilated spaces.
  • Use preferred scents to mask unpleasant smells.

The 3 Hidden Senses

In addition to the classic senses, three "hidden" sensory systems—vestibular, proprioception, and interoception—shape our internal experiences and influence how we understand our bodies.

Vestibular System

Vestibular receptors within the inner ear regulate balance and movement. This system enables us to perceive changes in speed and direction.

Vestibular Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity).

Those under-responsive to vestibular input may seek out intense movement experiences, like swinging or bouncing.

Vestibular Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Cravings for intense vestibular stimulation.
  • Enjoyment of movement-based activities.

Strategies for Vestibular Under-Responsivity:

  • Engage in rhythmic activities.
  • Provide equipment for vestibular stimulation.

Vestibular Over-Responsivity (Hypersensitivity).

Individuals with vestibular over-responsivity can experience discomfort and anxiety during movement activities.

Vestibular Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Negative reactions to movement.
  • Anxiety during spatial activities.
  • Impaired body control and coordination.

Strategies for Vestibular Over-Responsivity:

  • Approach movement activities gradually.
  • Maintain personal pace during activities.
  • Foster comfort with spatial situations.

Proprioception System

Proprioceptive receptors in muscles and joints inform our awareness of body positioning. This system contributes to smooth movements and pressure application.

Proprioception Under-Responsivity (Proprioceptive Seeking).

Under-responsive individuals may lack awareness of their body in space, engaging in physical activities for additional input.

Proprioception Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Difficulty with pressure application.
  • Enjoyment of physical play and contact.
  • Cravings for deep pressure activities.

Strategies for Proprioception Under-Responsivity:

  • Encourage safe physical play.
  • Utilize weighted items or clothing.
  • Engage in sensory-motor activities.

Proprioception Over-Responsivity (Proprioceptive Avoiding).

Over-responsive individuals are hypersensitive to touch and movement, often avoiding physical contact.

Proprioception Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Aversion to physical touch.
  • Discomfort during physical play.
  • Avoidance of certain environments.

Strategies for Proprioception Over-Responsivity:

  • Promote healthy body boundaries.
  • Introduce activities gradually.
  • Utilize pressure-based clothing.

Interoception System

Interoceptive receptors on internal organs provide information about our internal states, emotions, and physical conditions.

Interoception Under-Responsivity (Hyposensitivity).

Those under-responsive to interoceptive signals might struggle to detect internal cues, leading to a lack of awareness of physical and emotional states.

Interoception Under-Responsivity May Include:

  • Limited recognition of pain and temperature signals.
  • Reduced awareness of hunger and thirst.
  • Difficulty identifying emotions.

Strategies for Interoception Under-Responsivity:

  • Set alarms for eating, drinking, and breaks.
  • Engage in interoceptive exercises.
  • Collaborate with occupational therapists.

Interoception Over-Responsivity.

Individuals over-responsive to interoceptive signals might experience heightened sensations of hunger, thirst, and pain, potentially leading to discomfort and anxiety.

Interoception Over-Responsivity May Include:

  • Elevated awareness of bodily signals.
  • Intense emotional experiences.
  • Heightened pain perception.
  • Frequent feelings of sickness.

Strategies for Interoception Over-Responsivity:

  • Engage in mindfulness practices.
  • Work with occupational therapists.
  • Balance physical and sensory activities.
  • Foster self-awareness of pain signals.

In conclusion, our sensory systems are intricately woven into our experiences and interactions with the world. Acknowledging and understanding differences in sensory processing can aid in creating environments and strategies that better support individuals' unique sensory profiles and needs.

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