In a nutshell, we have 5 basic senses which are common to most of us. They are:

1) Sight - our eyes have special receptors that detect various changes in motion, light, distance.

2) Hearing - our ears have special receptors that detect sound, different volumes and frequencies etc.

3) Taste - our tongue has various taste buds which act as receptors in order to help us distinguish different tastes from foods and liquids such as sour, bitter, and sweet tastes, as well as allowing you to feel temperature.

4) Smell - our nose has receptors to help us identify different smells, be they sweet, pungent or otherwise.

5) Touch - our skin has receptors that help us to feel things against us, as they detect different changes in pressure, as well as light touch. This is also known as the ‘tactile’ sense.

The above five senses are senses that provide us with information from the external environment around us.
As an OT, I have studied 3 further senses that are just as important when trying to understand the link between our sensory world and the implications for development. These are slightly different to the above mentioned five senses, as these are in fact body senses, which provide information regarding the internal world within our body.

These are:

1) Proprioception:

This refers to the sense that helps us have an idea of where our body is in space. This sensation is created by special receptors in the muscles and joints in our body. This is important so that without even seeing our body, we have an awareness of what position we are in at one time, and how our arms and legs are moving through space.

Picture a little baby lying on her back, with her arms and legs kicking freely, flailing through space. Each time her limbs move, there is a signal being created in her muscles and joints, and this signal is carried along the neurological pathways, to the brain, where it is detected and interpreted into a message explaining where each limb is in relation to her own body as well as in relation to the environment around her.

2) Vestibular Sense:

In a similar way that our muscles and joints have receptors to provide us with information of our body’s position in space, our ears too have receptors in the inner ear, that detect changes of our head’s position in space. This also contributes to having an idea of the position of our body in space. It is the sense that processes information about movement, balance and and the effect that gravity has on our body. This is the sense that enables you to determine the direction in which your body is moving, how fast you are going and whether you are speeding up or slowing down. If this sense in not functioning optimally, this is when one tends to become nauseous upon various different states of motion, or gets easily frightened at what can be considered normal movement.

Picture a little boy swinging on a swing. His head and body are moving forwards and backwards, and each time this movement occurs, a signal is created at the receptors in the ears and is carried to the brain along the neurological pathways. This signal is then detected and is interpreted, giving the brain a message as to the direction the little boy is moving, ie forwards and backwards, and in addition to this, whether he is speeding up, ie when his mom pushes him, or when he is slowing down.

3) Interoception:

This particular sense is provided by the organs in our body and brings about awareness of our comfort level as well as our basic needs such as hunger, digestion, temperature and elimination.

Simply, picture yourself in a presentation of sorts. After having a few cups of tea, soon you realise that you need the toilet. The more you concentrate on the fact that you need the toilet, the less you focus on the presentation.

This is therefore another key factor in trying to understand the link between sensory integration and development. If our levels of arousal and concentration can be so innately governed by internal sensations, it is no wonder how the integration of the senses and hence the process of learning can be affected.

Now, a word that features for all of the above mentioned senses is that of “receptor”. Basically the receptor ‘catches’ the information provided by the stimulus, be it sound, taste, touch, smell etc and the information is then carried to the brain via bunches of sensory nerves.

The function of the brain then, is to process all the incoming information. It receives all the information, which has been brought about by the senses, and then decides what is important, and what isn’t. In other words, it filters out any irrelevant information so that an appropriate action can be performed in response to the input. This all happens before we are even aware of the sensory information received.

It is for this reason that appropriate types and amounts of sensory stimulation are offered to babies and children, in order to encourage and facilitate normal sensory development and hence resulting in adequate sensory integration. This therefore optimises their ability to explore in their environment without limitation and hence result in a mind and body that is ready for learning!

Spot on Tots is able to assist you, the parent, by making available Sensory Boxes containing products, tools and toys that encourage sensory awareness, exploration and fun.
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