Sensory Processing Depends on Six Senses
Sensory processing (or Sensorial Processing) disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses.
Six Sensory Processes
Humans have been known to rely on the 5 senses of touch, smell, taste, vision and hearing to connect with the surrounding world.
More recently, the sense of balance provided by the vestibular organ located in the inner ear has been recognised as the sixth sense (1). We can now say that human sensorial processing depends on 6 senses.
The processing provided by the sense of hearing, auditory processing, allows us to interpret what we hear through our ears. Children with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) are easily distracted and cannot focus on an auditory task for very long.
Visual processing relies on the sense of sight received from our eyes, the sense of touch is provided by the skin, taste via the tongue, smell through the nose and balance via the movements detected by the vestibular system.
Sensory Processes Stimulate the Brain
Each sense has an exclusive nerve branch that conducts sensorial stimuli from the peripheral organ to the brain. The brain analyses and interprets the information received from each sensorial organ keeping us in touch with our surrounding environment.
If your brain is unable to process sensorial information appropriately, you may experience a “sensorial processing disorder” which will affect your reception and interpretation of information.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Importantly, a sensorial processing disorder does not imply a sensorial loss per se. For example, your child may have perfect hearing acuity but is unable to adequately process auditory information, hence an auditory processing disorder but not a hearing loss.
On the other hand, a child may have a vision loss which will not lead to any visual processing disorder providing the use of prescription glasses to correct for that visual deficit.
Each human body is unique and appropriate bodily function relies on several inherited and environmental factors. Sensorial processing is a brain function and the cause of a processing disorder is variable amongst children with no other physical lesions affecting sensorial organs.
Gut Health is a Factor for Sensory Processing
Current research points to the gut as the organ responsible for most disorders affecting brain function (2, 3), hence, processing disorders are likely to be caused by a gut dysfunction. The gut is ultimately responsible for allergies leading to impaired sensorial function.
Just imagine how a child’s sensorial inputs to the brain become affected when his or her nose is constantly blocked. How can a child process sensorial information when experiencing “brain fog” for lacking minerals and vitamins? These are usually some of the triggers of a processing disorder in an otherwise healthy child.
Treating the gut is the first step towards improving sensorial processing function but it may not reverse an already established processing disorder.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Lifestyle and Gut Health contribute to Effective Sensory Processing
Further therapies may be required to address and strengthen each individual processing skill as required. Such therapies should aim to train the functionality of the sense in question to perform at best of its capacity.
The 6 senses cannot be ranked in order of importance as it depends on the circumstances requiring their use. Auditory and visual processing, for an example, are on par with learning written language while auditory processing is arguably more important for oral communication such as talking.
All the six senses of smell, taste, touch, vision, hearing and balance are equally important for your child’s development and learning.
Language, emotional and cognitive development are only fully achieved if the information provided by each sense is optimally processed at the brain level. And the brain, as we now know, is nourished via the gut, hence, the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
- Goldberg, J.M. et al. The Vestibular System: a Sixth Sense. Oxford University Press (2012)
- Koloski, Natasha A., et al. “The brain-gut pathway in functional gastrointestinal disorders is bidirectional: a 12-year prospective population-based study.“Gut61.9 (2012): 1284-1290.
- de Theije, Caroline GM, et al. “Pathways underlying the gut-to-brain connection in autism spectrum disorders as future targets for disease management.“European journal of pharmacology668 (2011): S70-S80.