What is sensory processing?
refers to the way a person’s nervous system manages incoming sensory information.
People with sensory processing challenges have difficulties receiving information through their senses. They may be extra sensitive or under-sensitive. Here are some descriptions of what it feels like to be extra sensitive:
“You don’t know what it feels like to be me, when you can’t sit still because your legs feel like they are on fire or it feels like a hundred ants are crawling up your arms.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009)
“Our brains are wired differently. We take in many sounds and conversations at once. I take over a thousand pictures of a person’s face when I look at them. That’s why we have a hard time looking at people. I have learnt how to filter through some of the mess.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009)
This video by Carly Fleischmann provides an excellent insight into what it’s like living with sensory processing challenges:
Here is a video explaining sensory processing from a child’s perspective:
Sensory processing and behaviour
may exhibit behaviours which are simply an uncontrollable response to their sensory challenges. For example, some people with autism may cover their ears, flap their hands, hum, rock or bang their head. Carly Fleischmann explains this behaviour as follows:
“Because if I don’t it feels like my body is going to explode. It’s just like when you shake a can of coke. If I could stop it I would but it is not like turning a switch off, it does not work that way. I know what is right and wrong but it’s like I have a fight with my brain over it.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009, describing why she bangs her head).
“It’s a way for us to drown out all sensory input that over loads us all at once. We create output to block out input.” (Carly Fleischmann, 2009)
Sensory challenges may also have an impact on a student learning a new skill, for example, Carly Fleischmann describes how she felt the touch of a keyboard to be uncomfortable, so it was very hard to develop typing skills.
Despite having quite extreme sensory processing challenges, Carly Fleischmann was able to complete mainstream high school and went on to undertake a Bachelor of Arts at University of Toronto. She now hosts her own talk show on her YouTube channel, called “Speechless with Carly Fleischmann”.