What is a sensory assessment?

We often get asked to complete a ‘sensory assessment’ for children and young people referred to us. This section should help you to understand the role of the occupational therapist in relation to sensory concerns.

Sensory processing refers to how our body registers, processes and responds to information from our senses. We all take in sensory information from our bodies and the world around us and use this to feel organised and to respond and behave as required in a given situation. Each individual will have differences in what is tolerable and what is not and we each show preferences to certain sensory information for example, the like or dislike of spicy foods or preferring to wear soft trousers rather than denim jeans.

The development of our sensory processing and sensory exploration is a typical part of childhood development and helps children to gradually learn to organise the sensory information within their brain to develop their responses. It is important to keep in mind that a person’s ability to cope with sensory stimuli will depend on the environment they’re in, including the people they are with and therefore, this may be different in a different setting such as school. Our responses to sensory stimuli may also change day to day dependant on what is going on around us. Feeling tired or more stressed than usual, feeling hungry or feeling unwell can all impact on our responses to sensory stimuli.

As Occupational Therapists, we use a holistic approach to consider the impact of sensory stimuli when a person’s sensory needs affect how they cope in different environments and how they join in with activities or occupations. It may be that we use the information gathered through the referral and initial assessment process, use of observations or use of standardised sensory questionnaires to facilitate our assessment. It is important to recognise that sensory assessments are rarely completed in isolation and will be a consideration of the therapist when looking at the person, the environment and the occupation. Parents/Cares may initially be invited to attend a workshop session, designed to support them with managing their child’s sensory needs.

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