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Sensory Systems 101

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

I commonly tell parents my little spiel about sensory processing. I like to think of our sensory systems as cars in our brain. As we process our sensory information our "cars" drive that information to the right place to create motor plans and memories. When our sensory system is functioning properly, there is little to no traffic. When we have sensory processing difficulties/disorder it is more like a traffic jam. We are constantly taking in sensory information throughout the day, all day, every day.

We have our 5 known senses: tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste).

We also have 3 hidden sensory systems: vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (input to our joints), and introception (how our body communicates with our brain).

Why is sensory information so important? Research shows that sensory experiences build neural pathways which are important for learning complex tasks. Processing the sensory information that is all around us all day every day is extremely important for behavior, attention, self-regulation, and learning. Sensory play is important for language/social development, fine and gross motor skills, and cognitive development.

Tactile (Touch) System

  • This system processes tactile information coming into the body.

  • There are receptors in our skin that help us differentiate from light touch to deep touch, temperature, different textures, vibrations and pain.