By Elizabeth Huffstutter, Psy.D.
When you think of your senses what comes to mind? A variety of words come to my mind including sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. In addition to visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and tactile systems we have sensory systems including proprioceptive, vestibular and interoception. The following is a brief review of these 8 systems.
Visual: The system responsible for processing sight. A person who has a visual dysfunction may experience difficulty with visual perception or even have difficulty maintaining appropriate eye contact.
Olfactory: The system responsible for processing smell. A person who has an olfactory dysfunction may have difficulty processing the sense of smell. They may experience an increased or decreased sense of smell.
Gustatory: The system responsible for processing taste. A large number of individuals have feeding issues, which may be associated with this system. A person may have difficulty processing various textures of food, which may result in feeding difficulties.
Auditory: The system responsible for processing hearing. An individual with an auditory dysfunction may hear everything and be unable to filter out unnecessary sounds or experience a delayed reaction to sound.
Tactile: The system responsible for processing touch. An individual with a tactile dysfunction may either excessively register tactile input and be hesitant to touch objects or they may require intense tactile input. Safety can be a concern with tactile dysfunction. For example, if a person has a delayed reaction to heat they could get a serious burn.
Proprioceptive: The system responsible for sensing the position, location, orientation, and movement of the body muscles and joints. It provides us with the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and effort used to move body parts. An individual with a proprioceptive dysfunction may be hypersensitive (appear weak and resistant to participate in heavy work activities) or hyposensitive (bumps and crashes into objects/people, movements to provide intense sensory input).
Vestibular: The system responsible for balance and orientation in space. It is the leading system informing us about movement and position of our head relative to gravity. A person with a vestibular dysfunction may by hypersensitive (overreacts to movement and fearful of changes in body position) or hyposensitive (crave movement and are always on the go).
Interoception: The system responsible for sensations related to the physiological/physical condition of the body. It is the sense of understanding and feeling what is going on inside of our body. Examples of interoception include hunger and thirst.
Individuals with sensory processing difficulties may have issues caused by one or more of these systems. There are various treatment options typically used by therapists to integrate and regulate these systems. If you have concerns about any of the motor or sensory systems, consider seeking an evaluation by a therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders.
Information obtained from the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder (www.spdstar.og) and the presentation Integrating Sensory and Motor Learning by Nisha S. Sanghvi, OTR/L.