Sensory Processing: Understanding, Identifying, and Supporting Needs

Home Occupational Therapy Sensory Processing: Understanding, Identifying, and Supporting Needs
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Sensory Processing

The early years of a child’s life are a critical period for development, laying the foundation for future learning and well-being. For some children, navigating this sensory-rich world can be challenging due to sensory processing needs. Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system receives, organizes, and responds to sensory information from the environment.

Understanding and supporting children with sensory processing needs is crucial for their overall development and success in various environments. In this blog post, we will explore the significance of sensory processing, identify common signs of sensory challenges, and provide practical strategies for supporting children in their early years.

The Importance of Sensory Processing in Early Childhood

Three children playing with toys that help with Sensory Processing

Sensory processing plays a pivotal role in a child’s overall development, influencing their motor skills, attention, emotional regulation, and social interactions. During the early years, children are actively exploring their surroundings, and their sensory experiences shape neural pathways in the brain. For children with sensory processing needs, the world may seem overwhelming, leading to challenges in participating in everyday activities. By recognizing and addressing sensory concerns early on, caregivers and educators can create an environment that fosters optimal development.

Signs of Sensory Processing Challenges

Signs of Sensory Processing Challenges

Identifying sensory processing challenges in young children can be complex, as each child is unique, and symptoms may manifest differently. However, there are common signs that caregivers and educators can observe:

1. Overreacting or underreacting to sensory stimuli:

Overreacting: A child may be overly sensitive to certain sensory inputs, such as bright lights, loud sounds, or certain textures, leading to strong reactions like covering ears, avoiding touch, or expressing discomfort.

Underreacting: Conversely, some children may exhibit a lack of response to sensory stimuli, requiring more intense input to notice or react appropriately.

2. Motor coordination difficulties:

Challenges with gross or fine motor skills, such as poor balance, coordination, or difficulty with activities like tying shoelaces or holding a pencil.

3. Avoidance behaviors:

Avoidance behaviors

Children may actively avoid or seek out specific sensory experiences, such as avoiding crowded spaces, refusing to touch certain textures, or seeking constant movement.

4. Difficulty with transitions:

Difficulty with transitions

Struggling with changes in routine or transitioning between activities due to heightened anxiety or difficulty adapting to new environments.

Support Strategies for Children with Sensory Processing Needs

OT Support Strategies

Creating an inclusive and supportive environment for children with sensory processing needs involves a collaborative effort between caregivers, educators, and professionals. Here are practical strategies to enhance the well-being and development of these children in the early years:

1. Individualized Assessment:

Individualized OT Assessment

Work closely with occupational therapists or other specialists to conduct a comprehensive sensory assessment for each child, identifying specific sensory preferences and challenges.

2. Create Sensory-Friendly Spaces:

Design environments that accommodate sensory needs, incorporating calming colours, adjustable lighting, and a variety of textures. Establish designated quiet areas where children can retreat when feeling overwhelmed.

3. Provide Predictability:

Provide Predictability: Clock and Calendar

Establish consistent routines and visual schedules to help children anticipate and prepare for transitions. Offering predictability in daily activities can reduce anxiety and enhance overall engagement.

4. Offer Sensory Breaks:

Sensory Break Choices

Integrate short breaks throughout the day to allow children to engage in activities that meet their sensory needs, such as using sensory tools, stretching, or deep-pressure activities.

5. Flexible Seating Options:

Offer a variety of seating choices, such as fidget tools, stability balls, or cushions, to accommodate different sensory preferences and support children in maintaining focus and comfort.

6. Incorporate Sensory Activities:

Incorporate Sensory Activities

Integrate sensory-rich activities into the curriculum, such as playdough, sand play, water play, and other tactile experiences. These activities can help children explore and process sensory information in a controlled setting.

7. Communication and Social Support:

Communication and Social Support

Foster open communication with parents, caregivers, and other professionals involved in the child’s care. Collaborate on strategies that can be implemented both at home and in educational settings to ensure consistency and support.

8. Educate Peers and Adults:

Educate Peers and Adults

Raise awareness among classmates, educators, and parents about sensory processing needs. Promote a culture of understanding, empathy, and inclusion to create a supportive community for the child.

9. Use Visual Supports:

Use Visual Supports

Implement visual cues, such as visual schedules, social stories, and visual prompts, to enhance communication and support children in understanding and following instructions.

10. Encourage Self-Advocacy:

Encourage Self-Advocacy
Image by: Lindsey Eaton
Source: Linkedin: The importance of self-advocacy

Teach children age-appropriate ways to express their sensory needs and preferences. Encourage them to use tools or strategies that help them self-regulate, fostering independence and self-awareness.


In conclusion, supporting children with sensory processing needs in the early years is a collaborative effort that requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. By recognizing the signs of sensory challenges and implementing targeted strategies, caregivers and educators can create an environment that promotes optimal development and well-being.

Embracing the uniqueness of each child and providing tailored support sets the stage for a positive early childhood experience, fostering a lifelong love of learning and exploration. Together, we can create inclusive spaces that empower every child to thrive in their sensory-rich world.

Occupational Therapy at Transform Life

It’s important to create inclusive spaces that empower every child to thrive in their sensory-rich world. Occupational Therapists play a vital role in supporting children with sensory processing difficulties.

Transform Life Logo

Transform Life is an NDIS-registered organisation that provides support for children with sensory processing difficulties. We also support parents and caregivers and assist you to best navigate the challenges your child and family face on a daily basis.

Book your FREE consult with an experienced Therapist at Transform Life to explore how OT can support you and your family.


Transform Life is an Australian owned provider specialising in evidence based therapeutic support including Positive Behaviour Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Interventions helping transform lives and families across Australia.

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