Sensory processing is a popular topic. More and more is being written about it, because you can run into problems when you experience too little or too much sensory input and are therefore under- or overreponsive. But … we would almost forget that it can also be great not to register all sensory input or to register input more then average. It can even make your life lots more pleasant! This is not discussed very often, which is why I decided on writing about this aspect. You could fall into the trap of only seeing the negative side of under- or overresponsivity, while there are plenty of positive sides to name. I would liek to invite you to explore this positive side with me.
Suppose a fire alarm goes off at school and the teacher is absent from Jacqueline’s class for just a minute. Almost all children immediately put their hands over their ears and quickly walk out of the room, towards the nearest exit, as they have learned. The sound is all-consuming for them and their attention is only focused on getting away as quickly as possible. But Jacqueline is not much bothered by the loud noise. She manages to keep calm and looks around before she leaves the room. She sees that Amir has crawled into a corner under a table, and sits there with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears. Jacqueline runs towards Amir, takes him by the hand and out of the room, towards the exit. Jacqueline registers fewer and weaker sensory input through hearing sense. That comes in very handy in this situation!
Jacqueline is not bothered by the loud noise. She knows how to keep calm.
Suppose you live in a group homw. There is also a house cat, Silver. Normally Silver is super sociable and wants to be involved in everything. But now he’s been sitting in a corner for a while and only comes out to go to the litter box. Yoan immediately notices that Silver has a slight limp and tells a caregiver. This way the sharp stone, which is stuck in Silver’s paw, can be quickly removed. Yoan receives much and stronger input through his sense of sight. As a result, he notices a lot of details in his environment. Which is very nice for Silver in this case!
In sensory processing we look at eight senses. The well-known five are: auditory, visual, taste smell and touch. And the lesser known ones: balance, movement/posture and interoception (sensory input that comes from inside your body). You are generally not under- or overresponsive for all your eight senses. For example, you may only experience sound and touch very strongly. Or you get too little input through movement, but you taste everything very strongly. All combinations are possible and everyone has their own special and unique combination. In addition, sensory processing depends on how you feel, in which environment you are and what experiences you’ve had. Generally people do tend to react to sensory input in one of three ways: neutrally, under- or overresponsive.
You are generally not under- or overresponsive for all your eight senses.
Neutral sensory processing
Let’s first look at neutral sensory processing. We’ll compare it to being under- or overresponsive.
When you react neutrally to sensory input, you generally experience sensory input strong enough to respond well to it. When your name is called you hear it, when a ball comes rolling in your direction you see it, and when food is being cooked you smell it.
You also are not easily bothered by input and you don’t quickly lack input. When you are at a party, you can have a good conversation. You can focus your attention on your conversation partner, on what he says and what he does. You notice the sounds, movements and maybe touches around you, but you can usually ignore them. You only get distracted every now and then when someone laughs loudly or bumps into you. If you are in a very quiet room, without much to see, feel and hear, you can still concentrate perfectly well on your activity, for example making a drawing. You remain active enough, your thoughts don’t wander and you continue drawing. In fact, you can handle sensory input well in almost all situations. You feel fine and can do the activities you want to do.
When you are regularly underresponsive, you receive too little and too weak sensory input. This means that you do not receive all information from the environment and therefore do not respond to everything. When your name is mentioned you don’t always hear it, when a ball comes rolling in your direction you may not notice it and you only smell that it is being cooked when strongly fragrant spices are being used.
But how nice is it, to sit in a busy park and not be disturbed by all the sounds, sights and smells around you? And how wonderful it is when you can do a crossword while other people are chatting in the same room, making coffee, having a telephone conversation or walking back and forth. You are not bothered by that, because the sensory input that they generate does not all register strongly. You do your thing without a hitch. Great to be underresponsive! You are also an easy dinnerguest, you’ll eat pretty much anything. All clothing feels comfortable and you can go wild on accessories, because you get used to it touching your skin within minutes. What do you mean, metal jewelry feels cold? You never noticed.
Being underresponsive means that you are not easily bothered by something. You are quite flexible. You don’t care how big the group is, what kind of seat you sit on, how much noise there is and how fast you move. Super chill! So enjoy:
- walking in the pouring rain;
- riding the roller coaster thirteen times in a row;
- surprising flavor combinations (strawberry with lime, fennel with orange, Brussels sprouts with thyme);
- tumbling around in, or jumping into a mound of leaves or hay;
- busy parties with lots of people and music.
Being underresponsive means that you are not easily bothered by something. You are quite flexible.
When you are generally overresponsive, you receive too much and too strong sensory input. This means that you receive a lot of information from the environment and are quickly bothered by it. You always hear it when your name is mentioned. You may be startled by the ball rolling your way and find the smells coming from the kitchen distracting.
But the fact that you experience much and strong input has the advantage that you perceive much more details than the average person. Music has no secrets for you; for example, you hear that second voice in the song and in a film you notice the role of music very well. When watching a sunset you are entranced by the beautiful colors. You notice subtle changes in the environment and you can point this out to others. With certain types of food you can taste exactly which herbs are used. And you notice immediately when someone needs an arm around their shoulder. And how nice is it if you can sit on a bench for an hour and enjoy the surroundings: all the colors you see, the sounds you hear, the wind and the sun you feel on your skin. You can enjoy the rustle of the leaves in the trees, the waving of the grass, the metallic colors of a magpie and the smells around you. The joy of being overresponsive!
Being overresponsive means that you perceive sensory input more intensely. You notice more details from the environment and therefore know before anyone else notices, when someone needs attention. Great, being sensitive! So enjoy:
- watching the drops in a rainstorm;
- listening to the sounds of nature;
- feel and fidget with intricate fabrics or fine strings;
- your favorite recipe;
- a drop of fragrant oil on a handkerchief.
You notice more details from the environment. Great, being sensitive!
Discover your ‘super-sensory powers’!
I sincerely hope that with this information you can give a positive spin to your way of sensory processing. That you discover your ‘super-sensory powers’ and enjoy them immensely!