sensory processing Archives | Play It Forward Therapy
Pumpkin Fidget

Pumpkin Fidget

Is your child constantly touching things?  Does your student have trouble sitting still while listening or while waiting?   Do you ever find yourself saying, “Keep your hands to yourself!”  If the answer is yes, then this Pumpkin Balloon Fidget is a super sensory solution for fidgety kids (and grown ups too)!   Whether your child is feeling anxious or seeking touch input, this little Pumpkin Fidget helps keep busy hands busy.

Sometimes kids really can’t help these extra movements they make with their hands.  Or they can’t seem to stop the need to keep touching things or fidget when required to sit still.  When it comes to sensory processing, it’s their nervous system responding to stress, overwhelm or excitement, or in some cases, even boredom.

You can help by understanding the nervous system’s drive to move, while redirecting it to a quiet, movement activity such as a fidget. In occupational therapy, we use fidgets to 1.)  Help kids maintain their focus  2.)  Help satisfy the need to constantly touch things  3.)  Strengthen hands and fingers by providing a repetitive resistance exercise (squeezing and pinching).

This fidget is Halloween themed, however you can make fidgets all year round!  Check out the video tutorial for this adorable Halloween Pumpkin Balloon Fidget at the end of this post.

Pumpkin Balloon Fidget

You will need

  • 1 yellow 12″ balloon
  • 1 orange 12″ balloon
  • Straw
  • Flour
  • Spoon
  • Funnel
  • Permanent marker
  • Scissors


  1.  Attach the yellow balloon to the end of the funnel.
  2. Scoop flour into the funnel.
  3. Poke the flour into the balloon using the straw.
  4. Carefully squeeze out the excess air and tie a knot.
  5. Trim the neck of both balloons.
  6. Cut a small 1cm snip on the bottom third of the orange balloon.  You can make it curved and cut out a small bit for a smile shape.
  7. Stretch the orange balloon wide and place the yellow balloon inside (knot side down).
  8. Tie the orange balloon into a knot.
  9. Cut green ribbon and tie 2 knots around the orange balloon knot.
  10. Curl the ribbon using the edge of the scissors for curly vines.


You may also like this adorable Jack O Lantern Cookie

Spooky Slime

Spooky Slime

Let’s get messy!  In occupational therapy we have a few good and gooey reasons to make slime!

  1. Introducing different textures in a fun way can help some kids improve their tolerance to wet and sticky textures.  When your child can tolerate other wet and squishy textures such as finger paint and playdough, making slime may be a fun thing to try.
  2. Playing with slime can help satisfy a kid’s sensory need to constantly touch things for kids who are sensory seekers for touch input.  Playing with slime acts as a fidget and can have a calming effect.
  3. Pushing, pulling, stretching, rolling and pinching slime strengthen hands and fingers by providing a repetitive resistance exercise.  Picking and pulling out hidden items out improves finger dexterity and precision.
  4. Making a new slime recipe is good practice for following directions.

You can make slime all year round!  Check out the video tutorial for our favorite spooky Slime Recipe at the end of this post.

Spooky Slime Recipe

You will need

  • 1 Cup white Elmer’s glue
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs contact lens solution
  • Food coloring
  • Spoon
  • Plastic container
  • Optional:  Confetti or glitter mix ins


  1.  Stir 1 tsp baking soda into the glue.
  2.  Add the food coloring and stir until desired color is achieved.
  3.  Add 1 TBs of contact lens solution
  4. Mix until the slime starts to pull away from the sides of the container.
  5. Take out and stretch, pull, knead on a non-stick surface.

Pro Tips:   

  • The slime may be quite sticky at first, however the more you work the slime the firmer it will become. 
  • You can also add more contact lens solution 1 tsp at a time for a firmer slime. 
  • Reuse a plastic yogurt or other type of container with lid to keep your slime in. 
  • Don’t let it get on your clothes or the carpet!


You may also like Pumpkin Fidget

The 8 Sensory Systems

The 8 Sensory Systems

Your Questions Answered About The 8 Sensory Systems

Read on to learn more about each sensory system and what differences in sensory processing may look like…

Q: What are the 5 primary sensory systems?

A:  Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste and Smell


Q.  What are the 3 hidden senses of the sensory system?

A:  1.) Proprioceptive System   2.) Vestibular System  3.) Interoceptive System

Let’s talk about each sensory system in more detail…

Visual Processing:  Visual processing includes visual acuity (how clearly you can see) and ocular motor control (how well your eyes work together).   Visual acuity is how clearly you can see things up close and far away.  For example, 20/20 vision is considered normal visual acuity.  Visual processing also includes other important ocular abilities that involve coordinated eye muscle movement.  It’s important for the eyes to work together as team.  One example of eye teaming binocular vision which requires the eyes to work together for perceiving depth perception, such as when you’re going up and down the stairs.  Depth perception is important for overall body coordination and eye hand coordination.  Another example of ocular motor control is fixation, or visual attention.  It’s essential to have steady visual attention on an object which impacts your ability to concentrate and sustain focus.  Saccades are the smooth movements of the eyes which requires the coordination of both eyes in order to smoothly track, such as when reading and writing.  Visual pursuits are the ability to following a moving object with your eyes only (not turning your head) such as when copying from the blackboard.  It’s super important to note that a person can have 20/20 vision but also have visual processing problems.  Eye strain, blurred vision, light sensitivity, if eyes not moving together, squinting or rubbing the eyes are all physical signs that indicate the need for further assessment.

Auditory Processing:  Auditory processing is how the central nervous system uses auditory information.  Hearing tests evaluate how well a person can hear sounds at different frequencies and to determine if there is any hearing loss.   Auditory processing includes not only hearing sounds, but also auditory discrimination (which helps you know what sounds to pay attention to) and auditory localization (which helps you determine where the sound is coming from).  Children with auditory processing disorder often exhibit a variety of listening challenges or complaints.  Some children are over-responsive or overly sensitive to auditory input and may become distressed upon hearing certain types of sounds.   Or they may have difficulty with auditory discrimination such as being able to understand speech in noisy environments (e.g. teacher talking in a noisy classroom).  Children with auditory processing problems may also have difficulty following directions and telling the difference between similar sounding speech sounds. Listening is a complex process that involves both hearing and processing sounds.  In the traditional classroom, good listening skills are necessary for spelling, reading and understanding spoken information to support classroom success.

Tactile Processing:  Touch receptors are located in the skin and detect temperature, vibration, pain and light pressure touch. Touch processing is important to alert us of danger such as keeping your hand away from a hot surface.  Tactile discrimination is the ability to differentiate information through the sense of touch.  Here’s an example of tactile discrimination:  If you have a nickel and a dime in your pocket, can you reach into your pocket and tell which one is the nickel without having seen it?  This is using your sense of touch to notice the differences in how different objects feel.  Tactile discrimination is also an underlying skill for the development of fine motor skills.  Other examples of how tactile processing affect our every day lives is how sensitive we are to touch.  For example, touch sensitivity impacts dressing;  Some children may be sensitive to light touch and find certain type and, textures of fabric or seams on clothing bothersome.  Other children may have decreased awareness to touch sensation and may not seem to notice if their hands or face are messy.  

Gustatory System/Oral Motor Skills:  The gustatory system is responsible for the perception of taste and flavor.  Taste cells located throughout the mouth, but primarily on the tongue as taste buds, sense the 5 taste modalities:  salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savory (umami).   This sense of touch within the mouth helps us to feel different textures and temperatures of food.  Your sense of taste and sense of smell work closely together and impact eating and food preferences.   Oral motor skills are necessary for speech production, safe swallowing and the ability to consume various liquid and food textures.  Additionally, oral motor skills such as sucking can have a calming effect on the nervous system.  One example is when an infant or toddler is calmed down and soothed by sucking on a pacifier. Other oral motor skills such as biting and chewing can have a calming effect by providing deep pressure proprioceptive input through the jaw.  Some examples include chewing gum or even eating certain types and textures of food to achieve a calming effect on the nervous system.

Olfactory Processing:  The sense of smell relies upon chemical receptors in the nose that send messages directly into the limbic system, which is the center for our emotions, memory, pleasure and learning. The sense of taste and smell work together to give pleasure, such as smelling and eating your favorite food and also serve to protect us from potentially noxious situations.  Some children may be overly sensitive to certain smells, such as gagging upon smelling a particular non-preferred food.  Some children may seek out scents such a constantly sniffing or smelling non-food objects.  This may be in part to seeking olfactory input, or in some cases if the child may be “on-guard” or hyper vigilant and uses smelling as a way to learn more about their environment. Other children may not seem to notice smells, which can become problematic for self-care routines related to hygiene.

Vestibular Processing: Receptors are located in the inner ear and are stimulated by movement of the head and input from other senses.  There are different types of vestibular input, such as linear movement ( e.g. swinging back and forth), up and down (e.g. jumping) and rotary input (e.g. spinning in circles).  Vestibular input is very powerful sensation and strongly influences your sense of balance, position in space, postural control, tolerance for movement, emotions and arousal level. The vestibular sense combined with the visual, proprioceptive and tactile systems are essential for well coordinated movements.  Some children with vestibular processing problems may appear clumsy, easily susceptible to motion sickness or may be fearful of certain movements, preferring their feet on the ground and more sedentary play.  Other children may seek out vestibular input and appear to be in constant motion by running, jumping or spinning more than usual.  Well-modulated vestibular activity is very important for maintaining a calm-alert state which is ideal for emotional regulation and learning.

Proprioceptive Processing:  Proprioceptive input includes deep pressure input which is obtained by lifting, pushing and pulling heavy objects including your own weight.   Deep pressure touch receptors are located in the muscles, joints and ligaments and control the amount of pressure and force as well as provide a sense of body awareness.   Heavy work activities and exercise that provide resistance to the muscles and joints have a calming effect on the nervous system.  Proprioceptive input plays an important role in helping children who are easily overwhelmed by other sensory inputs.  When proprioceptive activities are carefully selected, they can be used as calming strategies to help kids better regulate their emotional and behavioral responses to sensory stimulation or when feeling overwhelmed. Deep pressure touch and heavy work activities promote body awareness, position in space and have a calming effect.

Interoceptive System:  Interoception is the ability to detect internal sensations from one’s own body.  Messages from your organs are processed in the insular cortex of the brain.  Interoception is important for detecting physiological functions such as heart rate and breathing, hunger, thirst, toileting. This is combined with an awareness of emotion and a subjective intensity of emotion and perception. Activities such as mindfulness, deep breathing techniques and body scanning engage the interoceptive sense. 

Want to learn more?

You may also be interested in…

  • What is Sensory Processing Disorder?  Click here
  • What Every Parent Should Know about Sensory Processing Disorder. Click here
  • What are the 3 primary patterns of Sensory Processing Disorder?  Click Here

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

A:  SPD is a complex, neurophysiological condition that affects developing children (and adults who were not treated in childhood).

  • Sensory input, either from the environment or from the body, is poorly detected, modulated, or misinterpreted, resulting in an atypical response.
  • Symptoms occur within a broad spectrum of severity from feeling overwhelmed or bombarded by sensory information; to seeking out intense sensory experiences.
  • Poor sensory discrimination impacts motor performance and leads to difficulties with coordination.
  • While most of us have occasional difficulties processing sensory information, for children and adults with SPD, these difficulties are chronic, and they disrupt everyday life.

~ Lucy J. Miller

The Brain Body Connection

First off, we are ALL sensory beings.

Our bodies are hard wired with receptors to detect sensory input from our environment as well as from within our bodies. This sensory input is travels through our nervous system to our brain where it is processed and interpreted.

How you respond to this input really depends upon how your brain has processed and interpreted it.  Your brain automatically decides whether or not the sensation should be responded to, ignored or if it poses a threat.  Your response is governed by how your brain processes the sensation.   This process occurs without thinking as the brain filters out what’s important and what’s not important to pay attention to.

Everyone’s body chemistry, medical history and genetics are unique, which means that we all may interpret sensory information a bit differently but the overall circuitry is functioning well.

All of us at one time or another has problems processing sensory information.  However, the nervous system of children and adults with SPD may have problems with detecting, registering, processing and/or interpreting sensory input.   Sometimes, it’s as if a  “short circuit” occurs when the brain interprets the sensory information, resulting in an abnormal response or behavior.

For example, let’s say you’re at school and the bell rings.   The majority of children have gotten used to the sound of the bell, which means their brain has habituated to the noise so they hear it, but do not become startled or upset by it.  On the other hand, one student’s reaction to hearing the bell elicits a startle reflex, and he may become distressed upon hearing the bell, resulting in behavior such as covering his ears or crying.  This does not necessarily mean he has SPD, but it is important to understand that the reaction to auditory input will likely affect his performance and ability to focus in the classroom.

The 8 Sensory Systems

Most people can easily identify the 5 sensory systems (vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch), but you actually have 8 sensory systems. The types of sensory input we receive from our environment are visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, proprioception (deep pressure touch and body awareness), vestibular (balance, movement and position in space) and interoception.   Let’s do a quick review of the brain-body connection and the related sensory systems

Visual System

  • Sensory receptors in the eyes send messages to the optic nerve which sends sensory messages to various sites in the brain where the information is perceived, sorted out and linked up to other senses.
  • In addition to acuity, oculo-motor, eye teaming, visual tracking and visual sensitivities all play an important role in visual processing.

Auditory System

  • Sensory receptors in the ear send messages to the brain and central nervous system to make sense of sounds, which sounds to attend to and where the sound is coming from.
  • The discrimination of sound helps to pay attention by filtering out background noise. A child may overreact or under-react to sounds in the environment.
  • Listening is a complex process that involves both hearing and processing sounds.

Olfactory System

  • Smell travels directly into the limbic system which is the center for our emotions, memory, pleasure and learning.
  • Our sense of taste and smell work together to give pleasure and also serve to protect us from a potentially noxious situation.
  • Be aware of any taste and smell sensitivities.

Gustatory System/Oral Motor Skills

  • Taste, touch, texture and temperature receptors are located in the mouth.
  • Oral motor activities such as sucking can comfort and help a child self-regulate.
  • When combined with deep pressure input, oral motor input provides a calming effect (e.g. resistive chewing, biting).

Tactile System

  • Touch receptors are located in the skin and detect light touch, temperature, vibration and pain.
  • Touch discrimination is important for fine motor skills, body awareness and alerts us of danger.

Proprioceptive System

  • Touch receptors are located in the joints and muscles.
  • Deep pressure and heavy work activities promote body awareness, position in space and have a calming effect.

Vestibular System

  • Receptors are located in the inner ear and are stimulated by movement of the head and input from other senses.
  • Vestibular processing impacts balance, position in space, tolerance for movement, emotions and arousal level.
  • Well-modulated vestibular activity is very important for maintaining a calm-alert state.

Interoceptive System

  • Interoceptive awareness of the state of one’s own body is important for detecting physiological functions such as heart rate and breathing, hunger, thirst.
  • This is combined with an awareness of emotion and a subjective intensity of emotional and perception.
  • Activities such as mindfulness, deep breathing techniques and body scanning engage the interoceptive sense.


Do you ever find yourself asking, “I wonder if  _____ has sensory processing disorder?”

Perhaps you’re thinking of your own child?  Or perhaps there’s a student in your classroom whom you suspect has sensory issues?

What is your biggest challenge right now?

It’s SO important to keep an open mind when observing behaviors at home and in the classroom…  ask yourself if certain behaviors you observe are due to a maladaptive response to sensory input, a behavioral issue or a combination of both?  Are there certain triggers, events, environments, times of day or patterns that you notice when problems seem most likely to occur?  An occupational therapist trained in Sensory Processing can help you answer these questions!

The solution and strategies you choose will depend upon the root of the problem and the reasons why a particular response or behavior is occurring!



References:  Biel, L. and Peske, N., (2005). Raising A Sensory Smart Child.,  

Miller, L. (2014). Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder



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