The Sensory Systems

The Vestibular System:  This system gives us our sense of space-fast, slow, up, down, around, or in a straight line.  The receptors are located in the inner ear.  It helps us with balance and our comfort in our world including such things as climbing on a ladder, playing on playground equipment, or riding in a car or elevator. 

The Tactile System:  This system helps us to understand our world through touch.  The receptors are located in our skin.  At times, it is protective such as when we brush away a mosquito or pull away from a hot stove.  Other times, it gives us information about the quality of the touch such as soft, hard, smooth, rough, or the shape, which allows us to identify objects without vision.  Finding the light switch in the dark or finding your keys in your purse are examples of this.  

The Proprioception System:  This sense gives us the ability to know, without looking, our body position.  The receptors are located in the muscles.  It also helps us know how hard to push a door closed, how to handle an egg with care, or pet a kitten gently.  We get this information from pulling, pushing, lifting, carrying, and squeezing.  

The Auditory System:  This sense helps us understand our world through sound.  The receptors are located in the ear.  Not just hearing the sound but also discriminating the qualities of sound, it allows us to locate where the sound is coming from, tell the difference between similar sounds such as cup and cut, in addition to the determining the sound’s volume and pitch.  

The Gustatory and Olfactory Systems:  Gustatory, our sense of taste, helps us discriminate sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.  The receptors are located in our tongue.  Additional touch receptors are located in the mouth that tell us about food texture.  It also protects us by alerting us to potential dangers like rotten food.

Olfactory is our sense of smell.  It is very powerful.  Not only can it alert us to danger such as smoke, but it can trigger an emotional response.   A pleasant smell such as a baby’s skin or a loved one’s perfume can instantly evoke memories.  Conversely, a negative reaction can be triggered by certain smells that a person finds unpleasant (such as fish day in the lunchroom).  In addition, it is thought to be about 80% of our ability to taste.  

The Visual System:  This system is our vision sense.  The eyes are the receptors.  We get information about our world such as size, color, location (near and far), and movement.  It helps direct our hands and allows us to process complex symbols like we use in reading.  It can protect us too by alerting us to dangers in the environment.  

The Sensory System:  When we put all of these systems together and integrate all the information, we are able to engage with our world.  Our sensory system allows us to move in a skilled manner and do complicated activities such as playing on the playground equipment, playing a sport, or learning to play piano.  It also keeps us safe and allows us to build relationships with others.  

Sensory Tips

  • The touch system (tactile) helps us learn about our world. The tactile system helps us discriminate properties such as texture, size, shape, etc. To enhance these abilities, try activities that incorporate no vision and require the child to identify shape, texture, or to match objects. Deep pressure touch (tactile) is calming. Try deep bear hugs, firm massages, wrapping up tightly in a blanket like a cocoon, or making a “sandwich” out of couch cushions with your child in-between them to calm. 
  • Light quick touch (tactile) is arousing to the nervous system. To “wake” up, try a light tickle, playing in various dry materials such as beans or sand, or rubbing different textures on arms and legs. 
  • Sensory input to the joints and muscles (proprioception) calms and organizes the body. Try some of these activities before a more demanding task such as homework; tug-a-war, “animal” walks (bear, crab, seal, etc.), donkey kicks, wall push-ups, jumping up and down, or squeezing play doh. 
  • Fast, rotary movement (vestibular) is arousing. If you need to “wake” up, try dancing to fast music, spinning, or running a relay race. 
  • Slow, rhythmic movement is calming (vestibular). Try rocking in a rocking chair, rhythmic bouncing on a large ball, or gentle, rhythmic swinging to calm down. 
  • Certain smells can alert or calm (olfactory). Lavender is calming. Peppermint is alerting and apple is said to help with concentration. 
  • Chewy foods are organizing to the nervous system (oral). Foods such as chewy granola bars, beef jerky, bagels, chewy candy, or gum are all great choices. 
  • Sucking your thumb or on a straw is calming (oral). Use a straw at snack or meal times or suck on hard candy for calming input. 
  • Crunchy foods are alerting to the nervous system (oral). Pretzels, popcorn, crackers, raw veggies, or nuts are all great choices. 
  • Some types of music actually decrease the heart rate and therefore are calming (auditory). Classical music with beats of 70 beats per minute or less, rhythmic drumming, chanting, or nature sounds are all calming types of auditory input.


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Need some help?

Sometimes knowing we are not alone in facing a problem goes a long way to helping.  Reading these books with your kids is a great way to talk about problems.




Answers to Questions Teachers Ask About Sensory Integration

Carol Kranowitz et al


Arnie and His School Tools

Jennifer Veenendall

I’m Not Weird, I have Sensory Processing Discord (SPD) 

Chynna Laird

Meghan’s World:  The Story of One Girl’s Triumph over Sensory Processing Disorder

Diane M. Renna

My Great Big Feelings

C M Tolentino

Picky, Picky Pete:   A Boy and His Sensory Challenges 

Michelle Griffin


Sensational Journeys

Hartley Steiner


Sensational Kids

 Lucy J. Miller

Sensitive Sam:  Sam’s Sensory Adventure Has a Happy Ending!

Marla Roth-Fisch


SImple Low-cost Games and Activities for Sensorimotor Learning

Lisa A. Kurtz

Squirmy Wormy:  How I learned to Help Myself

Lynda Farrington Wilson


The Everything Parent’s Guide to Sensory Processing Disorder

Terri Mauro

The Goodenoughs Get in Sync

Carol Stock Kranowitz


The Out-of-Sync Child

Carol Stock Kranowitz

This is Gabriel Making Sense of School 

Hartley Steiner


Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears?  Dealing with Sensory Overload

Jennifer Veenendall

* Available through the Johnson County Library System

PossAbilities Children’s Therapy Group partners with parents and professionals to provide individualized therapy for children of all ages and “possabilities”. Poss-Abilities Children’s Therapy Group

Sensational Hope‘s mission is to service children in the Greater Kansas City Area with the primary dysfunction of Sensory Processing Disorder in helping to purchase needed therapy equipment and to provide community education through our speaking programs.

United Healthcare Grant Program UHCCF’s mission is to help fill the gap between what medical services/items a child needs and what their commercial health benefit plan will pay for. UHCCF grants provide financial help/assistance for families with children that have medical needs not covered or not fully covered by their commercial health insurance plan.

Star Institute. Sensory Health and Wellness for the State, the Nation, and the World.

Heartland Therapeutic Riding Academy 

Heartland provides equine-assisted services and therapies. HTR offers adaptive riding lessons, interactive vaulting, horsemanship classes and occupational therapy through hippotherapy. These activities and therapies provide physical, cognitive, and emotional growth through the movement of and emotional bond created with the horse.

Contact us today.

6223 Slater Street, Mission, KS 66202

Call Us: (816) 255-8929