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Understanding Sensory Processing: The Eight Senses and Sensory Preferences

Sensory processing is a fundamental aspect of our interaction with the world around us. It involves the way our body receives, interprets, and responds to sensory information from our environment. There are eight senses that our body uses to gather this information, and each person has unique sensory preferences across these senses. Understanding these preferences, and how they can differ from person to person, is crucial in managing our sensory needs and supporting those of others, particularly children.

The Eight Senses

Contrary to common belief, the human body has more than the traditionally recognised five senses. In fact, there are eight senses that our body uses to understand and interact with the world. These include the five commonly known senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. In addition to these, there are three lesser-known senses: the vestibular sense (balance and movement), the proprioceptive sense (body awareness), and the interoceptive sense (internal body sensations).

Each of these senses plays a unique role in our sensory processing and has its own ‘sensory cup’ or threshold, which determines how much sensory input we need or can tolerate before feeling overwhelmed.

Sensory Preferences

Everyone has different sensory preferences, which means that the size of our sensory cups can vary across the eight senses. For example, a person might have a large vestibular cup, seeking out lots of movement and physical activity, but a small auditory cup, becoming easily overwhelmed by loud or complex sounds.

It’s important to remember that our sensory preferences can be different from those of others, including our children. Recognising and respecting these differences can help us to support each other’s sensory needs and promote wellbeing.

Sensory Overload

When a sensory cup overflows, it can result in sensory overload. This is a state of heightened sensitivity where a person feels overwhelmed by the amount or intensity of sensory input they are receiving. Sensory overload can occur in both children and adults and can manifest in various ways, such as withdrawal, agitation, or emotional reactions.

Understanding how your body responds when you become overloaded can help you to manage your sensory needs more effectively. This might involve recognising the signs of sensory overload, such as feeling tense, irritable, or distracted, and implementing strategies to reduce sensory input or soothe your senses.

Managing Sensory Needs

Managing our sensory needs often involves changing the world around us to better suit our sensory preferences. This could include modifying our environment, such as reducing noise levels or adjusting lighting, choosing sensory-friendly activities, or using sensory aids, such as weighted blankets or fidget tools.

Remember, managing your sensory needs is not just about avoiding sensory overload. It’s also about ensuring that your sensory cups are adequately filled, providing you with the right amount of sensory input to feel alert, engaged, and comfortable.

Supporting Others’ Sensory Needs

Understanding and managing our sensory needs can also help us to support others, particularly children. By recognising a child’s sensory preferences and responding to their sensory needs, we can help them to feel more comfortable, engaged, and capable in their daily activities.

However, it’s important to remember that to effectively support a child’s sensory needs, we also need to manage our own. Being calm and in control can help us to respond more effectively to a child’s sensory needs and model appropriate sensory management strategies.


In conclusion, understanding sensory processing involves recognising the eight senses, acknowledging our unique sensory preferences, and managing our sensory needs. By doing so, we can navigate our sensory world more effectively, support others in managing their sensory needs, and promote overall wellbeing.


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