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Sensory processing & ND

What is sensory processing?

The way we get information from our different senses, and what our brains do with it, is called sensory processing. We are all individuals and our brains process information slightly differently. This means we have different sensory likes and dislikes. Think about what food and drink you like and don’t like. Some people love coffee, some people don’t; some people love loud rock music, some people don’t.

The sensory system within our bodies processes incoming information all day long and works hard to keep our system balanced. This is called sensory self-regulation. Regulating our sensory system allows us to feel comfortable and ready to take part in activities, such as playing, learning, exercise and sleeping.

Our Amazing Eight Senses
We have many different senses. The most well known are the five traditional senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. In addition, we have 3 significant internal senses.

Wheel detailing 8 sesnses

The three internal senses

Sensory processing and ND

Lots of us have differences in sensory processing without it getting in the way of everyday life. However, the sensory processing differences in neurodivergent individuals can be much more significant; this can lead to great enjoyment as well as significant challenges. It can be extremely challenging for neurodivergent individuals’ sensory systems to be well balanced in the noisy, busy and highly stimulating neurotypical world we live in.

Sometimes an individual might need more sensory information (hypo-sensitive) while others might need less information (hyper-sensitive) to feel “just right”. These sensory processing differences and needs can change within the same person across each hour, week and month, depending on the person’s environment and emotional and physical health.

These internal and environmental factors may lead to a person’s sensory processing being quickly overwhelmed by what or how they are feeling. This can be called ‘sensory overload’. This can then cause challenges in carrying out daily routines or activities.

This video helps us understand how a neurodivergent individual might experience an everyday experience such as visiting a shopping centre.

How sensory processing might look in ND children/young people

Sensory regulation and autonomy

Ultimately, the aim is for you/your child to have sensory autonomy – the ability to understand and advocate for your own sensory differences and needs. Individual help is likely to be needed to understand the human senses, personal sensory processing and individual sensory needs. This may take time and be worked on over several years.

In the meantime, you, as a young person or parent/carer, can make small changes to your environment and daily routine to help accommodate for sensory differences, likes and dislikes. You may already have developed some strategies and sensory routines to help keep regulated which is great.

Illustration of a magnifying glass looking at a brain

My teenage son will often get very distressed and ask me to turn out the lights because he struggles with this. It can also be calming for autistic children to have a sensory tent. They can also struggle with body position and movement. Read more

Emily, parent

Support Strategies

It will take time to learn about your/your child’s individual sensory preferences before working out which strategies to try. Please don’t expect big changes overnight. It can take several months for sensory strategies to be used effectively. Try to persist with strategies but you can always leave a strategy and come back to it if it doesn’t work straightaway.

For things that are essential in your everyday life, such as putting on clothes or going to school, it can help to identify individual likes and dislikes, e.g. light levels, noise levels, textures. It may help to use physical objects or pictures to help identify and express these likes and dislikes.

You can then accommodate these sensory preferences across your life, both at home and school. It may help, in some situations, to keep encouraging different sensory stimuli experiences. This can help reduce anxiety; completely avoiding situations can sometimes make it worse in the long run. But it’s really important that when they do these things, you have strategies in place to make them bearable and for the child/young person to communicate if it’s too much.

It’s OK to be different from other people – to help reduce stress in your/your child’s life, it can be ok to make choices that suit individual sensory preferences.

STARS team - sensory support

The Leeds STARS Team website have a range of high quality information and recommendations on supporting sensory differences, including sensory checklists, profiles and sensory breaks and circuits.


Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust - Sensory Processing Strategies

Strategies related to each individual sense can be found on Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust’s website.

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Joining in with Sensory Differences

A wide range of information and advice about sensory processing can be found on NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s website page – Joining in with sensory differences

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Making sense of your sensory behaviour

There is lots of helpful information and ideas of how to support sensory differences in this booklet from Falkirk Council

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Sensory Packs

The Caudwell Charity can help fund autism sensory packs for families with autistic children, if you meet their criteria.

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What is sensory processing?

The Humber Sensory Processing Hub provides detailed resources and information to educate families about sensory processing in children across different environments.

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Occupational Therapy support in Leeds

Occupational Therapists often see children who find ordinary daily living activities challenging. This can sometimes include supporting children with sensory differences to carry out the activities they want and need to do. A “sensory offer” is being developed in Leeds to create a joined-up approach to help parents, and other professionals and schools, better understand children’s sensory needs and how to manage them in everyday life situations.

Go to LCH site