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Sensory Terms for Families 


This system provides information regarding head positioning and head movement in space with respect to gravity. Adequate vestibular processing allows for balance, bilateral integration (i.e., the ability to use both sides of one's body in a coordinated manner), and integrated oculo-motor responses to support visual focusing. The vestibular system is also responsible for facilitating muscle tone (i.e., the readiness for muscles to contract), particularly in the muscles that sustain an upright posture against gravity. Lastly, vestibular processing plays a critical role in regulating the level of alertness. Dysfunction on this system can impact one r more of the aforementioned functions. It can manifest as hypersensitivity (i.e., fear and avoidance of heights or movement) or hypersensitivity (which may lead to excessive vestibular seeking behaviors such as spinning and jumping from heights). 


The proprioceptive system provides one's awareness of the position and orientation of specific body parts through receptors located in the muscles and joints. This sense is responsible for providing conscious and unconscious information about force and extent of joint movements (i.e., how much pressure/force is needed to push or pull something or pick up an item) as well as the rate and timing of movements. A dysfunction in this system may lead to difficulty controlling movement and cause  poor body and spatial awareness. Hyposensitivity within this system may cause seeking behaviors like crashing, banging, and pushing. 

Praxis or Motor Planning

Praxis is defined as the ability to conceptualize, plan, and execute a novel motor activity.  Efficient integration of information from all of the senses, especially the proprioceptive and tactile senses is necessary for children to learn new motor skills.


Fine Motor
Gross Motor

Ideation is a component of praxis. When presented with a novel toy or task, the person may not have the "idea" of how to interact with the item. 


The tactile system provides information through receptors located throughout the skin.  This system serves important functions such as protection against tissue damage (e.g., it alerts one to withdraw from extreme temperatures or painful stimuli) and the development of one’s body awareness in order to navigate around physical obstacles.  Efficient and accurate touch perception is required for skillful manipulation of tools and objects. The tactile system has also been shown to play a significant role in the psychosocial development of children (e.g., when there is an over-reaction to tactile stimulation it can hinder a healthy attachment).  Hypersensitivity or tactile defensiveness may cause the avoidance of certain textures such as sand, paint, mud as well as “textured” foods or clothing which may be perceived as irritating. Hyposensitivity may manifest into seeking behaviors such as a child who touches everything/everyone and seeks out “messy” play.


Sensory modulation is the brain’s ability to generate appropriately graded responses to sensory input.  Efficient sensory modulation allows the central nervous system to regulate such things as attention and activity level by enabling one to attend to important stimuli while tuning out irrelevant information.  For example, a child who has intact sensory modulation is able to listen and look at the teacher in the front of the classroom while tuning out the distractions (such as noises from the hallway, smells from the cafeteria, movement of peers around him, fluorescent lights flickering).  In contrast, a child who has a sensory modulation disorder will exhibit extreme over or under-reactions to sensations; he or she may become distressed by the lights in the classroom or the noises from the hallway. A child with sensory modulation disorder may have a difficult time inhibiting and filtering input in order to interact appropriately with the environment.

 Sensory Processing

Sensory processing refers to the ability of the nervous system to take in and interpret sensory information in order to generate an adaptive response.  To do this, the brain must register, select, organize, compare, and associate sensory information in a flexible, constantly changing manner. Traditionally, Ayres’ Sensory Integration® theory focuses on three senses: the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile (Ayres, 1974, 2005).  These three senses provide a child with information about his/her own body, and are foundational for the development of the other senses and for learning. The integrity of the sensory information received is the foundation for higher-level organizational skills.  Therefore, if atypical processing is occurring in one or more of these systems, a functional delay or deficit may occur in a number of areas including: praxis, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, language and communication, behavior, self-regulation, cognitive/academic skills and social skills.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning refers to cognitive processes involved in the conscious control of thoughts and actions (Liebermann, Giesbrecht & Muller, 2007).  Mental operations that fall within the realm of executive functioning include but are not limited to: attention shifting, planning and executing a task with several steps, time management, working memory, self-talk, impulse control, understanding consequences, and the ability to behave appropriately for the social situation at hand.

Self - Regulation

Self-regulation refers to one’s ability to attain, maintain, and change arousal and reactions appropriately, given a task or situation.  It involves many neurological connections in the brain. The ability to self-regulate depends upon adequate sensory integration, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. Emotional regulation involves monitoring, evaluating, and modifying the intensity and temporal features of one’s emotional response (Leibermann et al., 2007).  Simply put, emotional regulation refers to one’s ability to control emotions. Emotions are automatically elicited in response to events, but external elements, such as having objectivity (i.e., determining the size of the problem), motivation, and social perspective are utilized in regulating the emotion (Barkley, 1997).

Sensory Integration
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