Sensory Processing


We believe that every person has the potential to perform better, achieve more and enjoy life to the full. How we take in sensory information and process this in our brain has a great influence on our abilities and improvements in this area can lead to better abilities, understanding and expression. At SAS we dedicate ourselves to researching, developing and implementing new innovative methods that unlock the innate potential in every person. With the help of what a person CAN do we tackle areas that need further development in order to improve daily life.

The SAS programmes are used by families and schools throughout the world and are offered to private clients at Centres in England, Australia and Turkey. We help children and adults of all abilities improve attention, social & communication skills, emotional & behavioural maturity and educational & career achievement.

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Visual Processing - How vision influences daily life

Most learning and development takes place by taking in information through the sense of vision using the eyes and through the sense of hearing using the ears. These two senses, more than any of the other ways to take in information from the outside world, determine how well we develop from a new born baby to a well adjusted adult that can successfully function in life.

Seeing involves more than just our two eyes, as these are only the receptors that gather the visual information from the outside world. How this information is processed and interpreted in the brain will to a great extend determine how we perceive reality and how we react, behave and express ourselves.

When we are awake and attentive, around 90 % of all sensory information that reaches the brain comes though the eyes. This is why about one-third of the brain is dedicated to visual processing. The process is complex with the right field of vision of each eye being processed in the left brain hemisphere and the left field of vision of each eye being processed in the right hemisphere. The brain connects the half images together to arrive at two full images, one for each eye. The two separate and slightly different images help the brain to calculate distance and depth in addition to colour, shapes and movement.

Our conscious awareness cannot cope with all this visual information and most input has to be re-directed to memory, used for automatic reactions or simply deleted. Only a very small amount of information will be allowed to go through to our conscious awareness. This filtering process needs to work well in order for efficient learning and development to take place.

When this filtering process does not work optimally the following scenario's may inhibit learning:

  • Too much information is allowed through to the conscious awareness. This can lead to a good visual memory, great attention to detail and a wish for perfectness. But it can also induce stress, visual overload and general tiredness and consequently a lack of attention, concentration and understanding.
  • The wrong information is allowed through to the conscious awareness. This leads to confusion, poor understanding and delays in learning and development.

Some difficulties with vision can be corrected through the use of spectacles or contact lenses, but most of these filtering and processing difficulties can only be addressed by changing the way the brain processes visual information.

Auditory Processing - The Importance of Hearing

Most learning and development takes place by taking in information through the sense of vision using the eyes and through the sense of hearing using the ears. These two senses, more than any of the other ways to take in information from the outside world, determine how well we develop from a new born baby to a well adjusted adult that can successfully function in life.

Hearing involves more than just our two ears, as these are only the receptors that gather the auditory information from the outside world. How this information is processed and interpreted in the brain will to a great extend determine how we perceive reality and how we react, behave and express ourselves.

The information we receive through our ears is critical in acquiring language and our ability to learn to speak. Extensive periods of reduced hearing during the first years of life, though ear infections or medical conditions, will impact on language and speech development. Imperfections in how we hear will often show themselves in how we speak. Information received through the right ear is processed in the left brain hemisphere and the left ear is processed in the right hemisphere. The brain uses these two separate and slightly different signals to calculate location and movement in addition to frequency and intonation.

The two brain hemispheres must work well together in order to be able to filter out distracting sounds that come from other sources than, for instance, the sound of the mother's or teacher's voice. People with Attention Deficit are often distracted by unrelated sounds in their environment.

Just like most people are either right or left handed, one ear is normally also dominant. This matters as there is a speech specialisation in the brain, with almost all people processing speech in the left hemisphere. With the right ear directly connected to the left hemisphere, this is the most effective ear dominance to understand language and express ourselves through speech. Many stutterers, for instance, are left-ear dominant.

Reading and writing are complex processes involving not only visual abilities, but also relying on effective auditory processing. In order to read or write, we need to form sounds in our head, then speak and listen to ourselves, before being able to express ourselves. Poor auditory processing can lead to slow or incorrect reading and writing. Many Dyslexic people have difficulties in accurately processing fast or short sounds.

Severe loss of hearing can often be corrected through the use of hearing aids, but most filtering and processing difficulties can only be addressed by changing the way the brain processes auditory information.

Tactile Processing - Touch and movement issues

Touch is one of the five traditional senses and is part of the somatosensory system that also includes the sense of pressure, vibration, temperature and pain. We have about 5 million receptor cells in total. These receptor cells are not only located in our skin, but also in our internal organs, joints and muscles. By combining the sense of touch with information from our other senses we can detect and direct movement.

Touch is the earliest sense to develop in the foetus and is more important to sustaining life than either vision or hearing. It helps us assess potential danger and therefore often overrides other sensory input. Touch between people communicates distinct emotions such as anger, fear, happiness, sympathy, love, and gratitude. The modern educational system does not pay much attention to either touch or movement, but many people are easily distracted by touch or can learn and perform better whilst moving.

Many people get distracted by tight fitting clothes, labels or the feel of certain materials. Others may loose concentration by itches or an uneasiness or restlessness in parts of the body. Some have a strong dislike of being touched lightly, but like the sense of deep pressure when being hugged. Over or under-sensitivity to pain, heat or cold can also contribute to an overall feeling of uneasiness.

In a learning environment we ideally receive little information from our skin or internal body parts as we are then able to concentrate on the visual and auditory information being presented to us. Some of the negative influences caused by our sense of touch can be reduced by adjusting our environment, such as choosing the right clothes or furniture, but most of these filtering and processing difficulties can only be addressed by changing the way the brain processes somatosensory information.

Smell and Taste - The senses in our nose and mouth

Smell and taste are the two senses that sample our environment for information using chemical stimuli.

We can distinguish up to 10,000 different smells although we are mostly not consciously aware of their influence on our daily life. Our sense of smell warns us of potential dangers, such as bad food or smoke, and it can influence our mood, emotions, social interactions, memory and our immune system. Even during sleep our brain continues to process smells and the quality and emotional tone of our dreams can be influenced by having different smells in the room. Memories are often strongly associated with certain smells and our sense of smell can be used to improve memory and recall. Complete loss of the sense of smell can lead to depression, while over-sensitivity to certain smells can affect attention, concentration and eating habits.

We can only distinguish five different tastes - sweet, salt, bitter, sour and umami - and these combined with our sense of smell give us our appetite, our experience of flavour and protection from poisons.

Although strictly speaking a tactile sensation, the sense of texture and temperature in the mouth can play an important role in the overall appetite and flavour experience. Many specific eating preferences are not just a smell and taste issue, but also involve texture, temperature and sometimes the sound of food being chewed. A preference for specific tastes or certain textures such as very smooth or only crunchy are indicators of over-sensitivity in these areas.

Balance - The forgotten sense

In addition to the traditional five senses there are a number of 'hidden' senses, of which our sense of balance is probably the most important one that influences our ability to learn and develop. We 'feel' our balance through sensors in our inner ear. A good sense of balance is obviously important to be able to walk, run, play sports or dance, but it also plays an important role in our ability to read and write, for instance.

The balance sensors in our inner ear send signals to the muscles controlling our eyes in order to keep the eyes on target when we move our head. A poor sense of balance can thus be the cause of difficulties with reading or writing and individuals diagnosed with visual Dyslexia can benefit from activities that strengthen their sense of balance. An under- or over-sensitive balance system can also be the cause of restlesness, fidgeting and certain hyperactive behaviour.

Our overall sense of balance also involves input from our visual, auditory and proprioceptive systems and all these systems have to work together in a coordinated and efficient way to ensure good health, a sense of well-being and a receptive learning environment.

Proprioception - Our sense of body in space

Linked to our sense of balance is our proprioceptive system, our sense of where we are in the space around us and how much effort is required to move our body parts. This is essential, for instance, if we want to walk through a doorway without bumping into the door frame, or when walking down a flight of stairs. Children or adults that often fall over or bump themselves, or that are 'clumsy', probably have difficulties with their proprioceptive system.

The proprioceptive system receives input from sensors in the muscles, joints and tendons throughout our body and combines this feedback with information from our visual, auditory and balance systems. All this information needs extensive processing in the brain and is then compared with an internal body image.

Proprioception is a key element in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination and can influence writing skills and the ability to catch a ball, for instance. A poor sense of proprioception can the the cause of Dyspraxia, clumsiness or poor gross or fine motor skills.

Memory - Remembering and recalling

Memory is our ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences. Memory is an essential element in learning – without it we would have to re-learn the same things all the time. Memory is much more than just remembering things or events. It provides us with a sense of self and it make us feel comfortable with people and environments we know. It is also an essential element of our concepts of time, planning and consequences. Most of the time it directs our behaviour and it makes us who we are.

Memory is not located in one particular part of the brain but is a brain-wide process, involving both brain-halves and complex processing. What we perceive to be a single memory is actually constructed out of a diverse set of different memories of previous experiences.

Memory begins with taking in information through our senses, filtering and combining the impressions from all senses and linking it to existing memories. It is easier to remember something that is familiar but slightly different than to remember something that is totally new, like an unfamiliar language. Linking new information to existing knowledge is essential to ensure the brain stores and retains the information.

There are three stages that information has to go through for long term storage and retention:

  • sensory stage - recognition of the received information;
  • short-term memory - combining recognised elements in the information flow;
  • long-term memory - storage of some of the received information for later recall.

Recall of a memory is the retrieval of information from various parts of the brain, combining it into a coherent single memory and bringing it into our conscious awareness. Recall requires a number of clues on the subject, environment or circumstances in order for the brain to be able to find the required information. The original storage of the information started with sensory information and the final recall of a memory will again be represented as a sensory experience. Sensory clues, such as a colour or shape (visual), or how it sounds (auditory), or the smell of flowers in the environment, will all help to both store and recall a memory better.

Understanding - Making connections

Understanding is the awareness of the connection between individual pieces of information. Understanding allows us to put knowledge to use and it therefore represents a deeper level than simple knowledge. The process of understanding uses many different parts of the brain and involves both brain-halves.

Like memory, understanding begins with taking in information through our senses, filtering and combining the impressions from all senses and linking it to existing memories, knowledge and understanding. It is easier to understand something that is similar to something we already know than to understand a totally new concept. Linking new information to existing knowledge is essential to help the process of understanding.

Understanding an instruction, actions by others, a process or a concept relies on accurate sensory processing and efficient memory. The ability to make internal visual and auditory representations of the received information is an essential step in the process of understanding. How fast this process takes place will also determine how successful a person is in understanding, learning or responding to situations.

SAS Solutions

The five senses – hearing, vision, touch, smell and taste – plus our sense of balance and where our body is in the space around us (proprioception) all contribute to how we learn and develop. How the brain receives, filters, processes and interprets the signals from these senses determines how we perceive reality and how we react, behave and express ourselves. The SAS methods are specifically designed to strengthen sensory processing and improve inter-hemispheric synchronisation and communication. The structured training and coaching programmes improve speech & pronunciation, reading & writing, attention & understanding and lead to better behavioural, social and emotional expression.

Faster and more efficient auditory processing, and strengthening of the language and speech centres in the left side of the brain can be achieved in a short space of time through intensive neuro-sensory training. We offer a range of condition-specific courses at SAS Centres, through SAS Practitioners, or as a SAS At Home course. Tailor-made brain training that can make a real difference!


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