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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE  SEVEN SENSORY SYSTEMS
AND ACTIVITIES TO IMPROVE THEM

By Triveni Goswami Vernal 
Special Educator (A64010)

Perception is the process through which an individual experiences and interprets sensory information, from the world around them.

Perception is a more complex process in comparison to Sensation. Sensation is the process of detection of sensory stimuli through various sensory receptors located in the sense organs, whereas, Perception is the detection, organization and interpretation of the sensory stimuli. 


There are 7 sensory systems in the human body—5 basic systems that are more popularly known by all, and 2 other sensory systems that are equally important. The five basic sensory systems are Sight (Vision), Smell (Olfactory), Hearing (Auditory), Touch (Tactile) and Taste (Gustatory).  The other two are Vestibular (Movement) and Proprioception (Bodily Position). 

www.momentousinstitute.org
 
                                   


SENSORY INTEGRATION (IN BRIEF)
Sensory Integration is the process by which information from all the senses can be perceived and integrated in a proper manner. Often, in children with Autism, the integration between various sensory processes is not in sync, thus creating numerous kinds of challenges in the way they perceive the world around them. 
For example, some children may have lots of sensitivities towards sound. It could be a type of sound (pressure cooker whistle, or the mixer), or a particular frequency of a sound, that may go undetected by others (example, whirring of a fan). When a certain sensory stimulation overwhelms them, they tend to engage in actions to avoid them as much as possible. In comparison, when it underwhelms them, they tend to seek it out. These actions often take the form of Stims (Self Stimulatory Behaviour). 
Unless it causes self-harm, or is harmful towards others, Stimming need not be stopped. In fact, we need to acknowledge the behaviour, and if one feels it is impacting their day to day functioning or not allowing them to carry out a task to completion, then, a designated time can be given to them, during the task (like a break), and/or during the day, for them to stim at leisure. 

TYPES OF PERCEPTION
Each of the 7 Sensory Systems has its own Perceptual Processes. The Visual and Auditory Perceptual Processes will be explained in greater detail, than the others. 

1) VISUAL PERCEPTION: Simply put, Visual Perception is the ability of the brain to detect visual sensory input and interpret in a way, that helps an individual to perceive the world, visually. 

There are several kinds of Visual Perceptions (Ref: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/psychology/visual-perception ) —  


a) “Visual discrimination: The ability to distinguish one shape from another.

b) Visual memory: The ability to remember a specific form when removed from your visual field.

c) Visual-spatial relationships: The ability to recognize forms that are the same but may be in a different spatial orientation.

d) Visual form constancy: The ability to discern similar forms that may be different in size, color, or spatial orientation and to consistently match the similar forms.

e) Visual sequential memory: The ability to recall two to seven items in sequence with vision obstructed


f) Visual figure/ground: The ability to discern discrete forms when camouflaged or partially hidden


g) Visual closure: The ability to recognize familiar forms that are only partially completed.”

2) AUDITORY PERCEPTION: It is the ability to identify and interpret an auditory stimulus and to decode its meaning.  

According to an article by ChildPsych (a group of child psychologists in South Africa), there are several kinds of Auditory Perception Skills:
(Ref: https://www.childpsych.co.za/auditory-perception-skills-support-child-developing-skills/


a) Auditory Figure Ground:  The ability to focus on one sound in the midst of several others.
b) Auditory Discrimination: The ability to detect similarities and differences between various sounds, such as dog and bog. 
c) Auditory Closure:  The ability to complete or add sounds that was not heard. For example, if the child heard a sentence only partially, Close the d…when you go out”, the child may be able to make out that the word he missed was “door”.
d) Auditory Spatial Awareness: The ability to recognize or identify the source of the sound. 
e) Auditory Analysis and Auditory Synthesis: Auditory Analysis is the ability to perceive that words are made of syllables and sentences are made of words. It is an important element of Spelling. Whereas, Auditory Synthesis is the ability to identify that blending syllables makes new words and words together, make a sentence. Hence this ability is important for Reading. 
f) Auditory Memory: It refers to the ability to remember things that have been heard, and recollect it at a later point in time. 


3) OLFACTORY PERCEPTION: It refers to the ability to detect olfactory stimulation and identify the particular odour.  Olfactory Perception is an important life-saving skill as it involves the ability to detect smells that can signal a dangerous situation or an emergency, such as the smell of things burning or a leak in Gas /fuel etc. 

4) GUSTATORY PERCEPTION:  It is the ability to perceive the gustatory stimulation and identify various kinds of tastes (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Umami). 
5) TACTILE PERCEPTION: It refers to the ability to identify an object through a sense of touch/ pressure on the skin. It includes the ability to discriminate between various kinds of pressure applied on the skin (Light touch/Heavy touch such as squeezing), discriminate between temperatures (hot/cold), and also how the person uses this ability to interact with the world around them. For example, while touching surfaces or holding a pencil to write etc.
6) VESTIBULAR PERCEPTION: It is the ability to detect the position and movement of the head in relation to the space around the person. It gives a sense of balance. 
7) PROPRIOCEPTIVE PERCEPTION: It is the ability of the “body to sense its location, movements and actions” (https://www.healthline.com/health/body/proprioception).  For example, we can pick up a pencil from the floor without actually looking at it. 

ACTIVITIES:
1) VISUAL PERCEPTION: I will share activities for each type of Visual Perception.

a) Visual Discrimination: Sorting, Jigsaw Puzzles, Eye Tracking, Word Mazes etc

       https://literacylearn.com/visual-discrimination-worksheets/
       https://www.twinkl.co.in/resource/t-s-3214-visual-discrimination-activity-sheets-find-the-overlapping-pictures
https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/visual-discrimination.html

b) Visual Memory: Memory Games, What is Missing?

  https://www.happyneuronpro.com/en/free-cognitive-activities-for-adults/free-worksheets-28/
https://www.education.com/worksheets/memory-games/?page=3

c) Visual Spatial Relationships: Riding a bike through an Obstacle Course, Gross motor activities with closed eyes, Climbing activities etc

https://www.happyneuronpro.com/en/free-cognitive-activities-for-adults/visual-spatial/

https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2017/01/04/10-free-visual-spatial-printables/

d) Visual Form Constancy: Looking for Objects in a room according to a particular shape, Picture Books, Using play dough to create shapes of things and matching them etc

                   https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/form-constancy.html
                   https://eyecanlearn.com/perception/constancy/
e) Visual Sequential Memory: Memory Games, Keep an array of object on¬ a tray, show the child for some time, then rearrange the sequence under a cloth and ask the child to replicate the same etc.
                   https://www.twinkl.co.in/search?q=visual+sequential+memory
                   https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/visual-sequential-memory.html     
f)   Visual Figure-Ground: I Spy, Word Searches, Matching an animal outline to its shadow etc
   https://www.theottoolbox.com/visual-figure-ground/
https://www.education.com/worksheets/word-search/

g) Visual Closure: Drawing the complete animal, when presented with an incomplete outline, Partially cover some fruits with a cloth and ask to identify what they are  etc

  https://chicagooccupationaltherapy.com/ot-resources/visual-perceptual-activity-worksheets/
https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/visual-closure.html

2) AUDITORY PERCEPTION:


a) Auditory Figure Ground: Trying to listen to a song, when there is a lot of background noise, listen to an instruction from a person when a song is playing in the background etc.
b) Auditory Discrimination: Give the child similar sounding words to Listen to, such as Forty/Fourteen, Dog/Bog, House/Mouse; Identifying common sounds in the environment (one can audio record sounds that are familiar, such as car horns, sirens, pressure cooker whistle, mixer grinder etc). 
https://media.zaner-bloser.com/reading/superkids-reading-program/pdfs/R1689B_LanguageSkillsActivities_Auditory.pdf

c) Auditory Closure: Sing a familiar song, leave a word/few words/sentence and let the child complete it. 
                 https://blog.medel.com/use-auditory-closure-to-build-listening-and-talking-skills/
                 https://teacherworksheets.co.uk/sheets/auditory-closure
d) Auditory Spatial Awareness: Activities that involve Listening to an instruction with a lot of noise in the background; Trying to locate the source of the sound (which direction is it coming from) etc

e) Auditory Analysis and Auditory Synthesis: Activities include Reading to the children every day; Teaching them to blend syllables (phonics) to form words(d-o-g). Auditory Analysis helps the child in Spelling (recognizing that a word is made up of syllables or sentences are made of words etc) and Auditory Synthesis helps the child in Reading (recognizing that syllables make a word etc). 

https://empoweredparents.co/auditory-perception/     

f) Auditory Memory: Memory Games, Listening to instructions to draw a visual/s, Listening to a string of words and trying to recall them in the correct order (Auditory sequential memory) etc.

https://empoweredparents.co/auditory-memory-games/     
https://www.twinkl.co.in/resources/specialeducationalneeds-sen-speech-language-therapy/sen-autism-spectrum-disorders-communication/specialeducationalneeds-sen-speech-language-therapy-auditory-memory

3) OLFACTORY PERCEPTION: Activities include learning to discriminate between various smells, Good and Dangerous smells (Burning /Gas leak/Fuel leak etc). 

https://empoweredparents.co/sense-of-smell-activities/


4) GUSTATORY PERCEPTION: Eating different types of food (in terms of taste/ texture etc)
     
https://www.growinghandsonkids.com/the-best-activities-for-the-gustatory-system.html

https://sensory-processing.middletownautism.com/sensory-strategies/strategies-according-to-sense/gustatory/activities/

5) TACTILE PERCEPTION: Activities that include, an exposure to various textures (soft/hard/brittle/mushy); Walking on various kinds of Textures (spiky/ sand/ on pebbles/ soft mat etc); Keep a small bag of various kinds of objects and ask the child to put his hand inside, without looking, touch the objects and guess what each of them are etc
           https://sensory-processing.middletownautism.com/sensory-strategies/strategies-according-to-sense/tactile/tactile-activities-all-ages/
https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/tactile-perception-activities.html
6) VESTIBULAR PERCEPTION: Activities include Spinning on a chair with wheels; Standing on a Balance board; Climbing a ladder; Crawling through a tunnel etc

https://yourkidstable.com/vestibular-activities-and-input/
https://www.theottoolbox.com/vestibular-activities/

7) PROPRIOCEPTION PERCEPTION: Activities include Jumping in an obstacle course; Jumping Jacks; Climbing, Wheelbarrow walking; Swinging etc

https://www.theottoolbox.com/proprioception-activities-improves-body-awareness/
https://sensory-processing.middletownautism.com/sensory-strategies/strategies-according-to-sense/proprioceptive/


In conclusion, we can see how significant each of these perceptual systems are for an overall integration of the sensory experience of our children. As parents and educators, we should ensure that along with various Functional Academic skills and Activities of Daily Living, we also focus on activities for each of these Perceptual Systems thereby helping the child to function more effectively in their day- to-day life. 

*PLEASE NOTE*
While a parent can try and include sensory activities at home, to the best of their knowledge, it is best to consult a trained Occupational Therapist for an assessment and plan. 
******

Author Triveni Goswami Vernal

Special Educator (A64010)

Triveni Goswami Vernal is an Autism advocate, registered Special Educator (CRR A64010) and an Independent Researcher. Her areas of interest include Autism, Disability Rights, Gender, Art and Northeast studies. She is a mum to an 11 year old on the Autism Spectrum.T

The artwork for this blog is done by our CreativeSaathi associate and Triveni’s son Kabir Vernal.

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