Sensory processing and our 8 senses explained (yes, 8 not 5!)

By Paeds in a podGeneralLearning16 Aug 2021

Every day our brain collects information from our senses that tells us about the world around us. Sensory processing is the organisation of that information. It’s an automatic, unconscious process which normally occurs without effort. When we do it effectively, we successfully control the degree by which we are affected by sensory inputs.

For some children with developmental problems, sensory processing requires effort and concentration, or can be an overwhelming experience. Children with sensory processing disorders can experience a range of symptoms, from being over-responsive (crying at loud noises) to being under-responsive (being unresponsive to pain).

An occupational therapist can assess your child/teenager to determine whether sensory processing difficulties are contributing to dysfunction in their daily life.

Some young people only eat certain foods because the feeling in their mouth is aversive, which then can impact on socialising with friends and family.

The things that young people need to be able to do, or want to do – their everyday ‘occupations’ – can be affected (e.g. tolerating sitting in a loud assembly hall, sitting still in a classroom environment, or tolerating fast-paced work environments for their part-time job).

An occupational therapist can help your young person understand their unique sensory preferences and accommodate how their unique brain works, to be able to do the things that are important to them.

Did you know, we have eight sensory systems delivering information to our brain – not just five?

There are the ones we know – sight (visual), taste (gustatory), touch (tactile), hearing (auditory), and smell (olfactory). The three we’re not so familiar with are vestibular (balance), proprioceptive (movement) and interoceptive (internal).

Let’s take a closer look at all eight sensory systems…

  1. Visual input (sight): We see through our eyes. They take in rays of light that create tiny pictures on the back of our eyeball. Our brain interprets the signals it receives from the eyeball and tells us what we are looking at.
  2. Gustatory input (taste): Our taste cells react to food and beverages. They tell us about flavours, texture and temperature. They are clustered in the mouth, tongue and throat and receive five specific tastes – salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umani (savory).
  3. Tactile input (touch): Our tactile system helps us to understand the important sensations of pressure, texture, hot and cold, and pain. This includes discriminating between light touch and firm touch, and textures from dry to wet and messy. Our tactile system is also associated with bonding and relationships.
  4. Hearing input (auditory): We receive auditory input through our ears to gauge whether they are important or just part of our everyday, as well as where they come from, how close they are, and whether we’ve heard them before.
  5. Olfactory input (smell): The sensory receptors in our nose pick up information about the odours around us. They pass that information along a channel of nerves to the brain. The power of smell can be underestimated. It is strongly linked to emotion and memory (neurobiological) and therefore can trigger unexpected trauma reactions.
  6. Vestibular input (balance): These receptors are in the inner ear and stimulation occurs through any change in position, direction or movement of the head. Vestibular input contributes to our sense of body position in space, posture and muscle tone, the maintenance of a stable visual field, bilateral co-ordination, a sense of equilibrium/balance and gravitational awareness.
  7. Proprioceptive input (movement): This system is in our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint receptors. It tells us where our body is in space and detects and controls force and pressure. It helps us to feel grounded and know where we are and what we are doing.
  8. Interoceptive input (internal): Sometimes called the hidden sense, the interoceptive system gives us the ability to feel what is happening inside our body. It plays a role in influencing emotions and sense of wellbeing and detects changes in our internal state. These include hunger and fullness, thirst, body temperature, heart and breathing rates, social touch, muscle tension, itch, nausea, sleepiness and more.


Paeds in a Pod, in partnership with the University of Queensland, is inviting families to participate in Sensational Fridays. It’s a clinic program offered in partnership with fourth-year Occupational Therapy students from the UQ School of Health and Rehabilitation Services, and is supervised by experienced Paeds in a Pod Occupational Therapist and UQ Associate Lecturer of Occupational Therapy Tammie Addley.

Sensational Fridays aims to provide coping strategies and self-care plans for young people experiencing difficulties with emotional regulation based on the neuroscience of sensory modulation. Put simply, it teaches them how to change how they feel by using their senses.

Sensational Fridays commence Friday 30th July, and then run every Friday from 20th August until 15th October 2021.
There are limited places available, and bookings are essential.
Contact us to find out more.

We have a number of locations around Brisbane to help make it easier for you to access specialist care.