The Beginner’s Guide to Sensory
Let’s settle this once and for all: There are EIGHT senses. EIGHT, you hear me?
(…at least in Occupational Therapy World there are).
There are the five you probably already know because your kindergarten teacher drilled it into your brain, but in case they didn’t, here they are again. Consider this a refresher course (you’re welcome).
- Sight (aka visual)
- Hearing (aka auditory)
- Taste (aka gustatory)
- Smell (aka olfactory)
- Touch (aka tactile)
So, what are the three mystery senses?
Vestibular, Proprioceptive, and Interoceptive.
The vestibular system is responsible for your body’s ability to balance and to perceive whether you are right-side up, or upside down (no, not the scary world in Stranger Things).
The proprioceptive system is responsible for your body’s ability to sense the impact of movement in your joints and limbs, and know where your arms and legs are relative to your body without having to look.
The interoceptive system is an internal sense, responsible for sensing your most basic needs, like hunger, thirst, and going to the bathroom.
Now that we know all seven senses, I want to touch on sensory processing (pun intended).
Most people are either sensory-seeking, or sensory-avoiding to some degree. Imagine that we all have a bucket. Inside the bucket are all of our sensory needs to help us stay calm and focused (regulated). For someone who is considered sensory-seeking, they have a few holes in their bucket, so they are constantly running out of their much-needed sensory input. That may look like someone who likes loud noises, strong smells, spinning, jumping, or intensely flavored foods. They seek these sensory inputs in order to keep their bucket full and to stay regulated.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are sensory-avoiding. Their bucket is absolutely full, and they experience sensory overload often, which is very stressful. They tend to appreciate little to no noise, sitting still, and/or they like their food on the bland side.
I will always emphasize that EVERYONE is different, so each combo of sensory input is unique to the individual. I, for example, love very salty foods, but I don’t particularly like being in crowded, noisy places (I’m looking at you, Target). So if someone is sensory-seeking, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are seeking EVERY. SINGLE. INTENSE. SENSORY INPUT. EVER. Same goes for sensory-avoiding. They just have their own personal sensory settings that keep their bucket filled to the right amount for them to function at their best.
Try out different things. The more you try, the more in tune you’ll be with your own sensory bucket.