Sensory Processing and How We Learn

Category: Play Therapy

By Jennifer Hector, LMFT


trampoline-436544_960_720pixabayOur sensory lives begin in the womb. At 7 weeks the senses of smell and touch begin to develop and by 14 weeks taste, 20 weeks hearing and 24 weeks seeing. This early development underscores the prime importance of the senses as key to our survival. They are major players in the brain-body that allow us to register, process and respond to our world.

The sensory system is a complex system made up of many parts. To introduce its main players, let’s imagine a child’s sensory system and how they learn as a growing tree.

The roots of the sensory learning tree are made up of the brain and the near senses- the vestibular sense (inner ear- balance and coordination), proprioceptive sense (muscles and joints- body awareness) and the tactile sense (skin). The trunk consists of the more familiar senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell. As we move up the tree, we see the thick lower limbs that make up body awareness and mature reflexes that grow out of the information from the sensory base. Moving further up the tree, learning from sensory information becomes more and more refined and translated into branches of posture maturity, motor planning, language, social skills, attention span, academics, etc.

A child’s sensory tree grows strong through organized processing of sensory information that is channeled from the sensory roots to the brain via the nerve networks of the central nervous system. Some children’s sensory systems have difficulty processing sensory information; the information that comes in from the sensory base can be impacted by nerve networks that aren’t robust or are off time in their delivery which leads to information being translated and responded to in a disorganized way.

This disorganization of information affects all avenues of learning for children with sensory processing issues. Misinterpretation of everyday sensory information can manifest as:


  • Difficulty paying attention and following directions
  • Always on the go, fidgeting, spinning etc.
  • Easily tires and low motivation
  • Emotional volatility
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Tantrums or aggression
  • Lack of social skills
  • Social isolation and depression
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Learning disabilities


For kids with sensory processing issues daily tasks can be daunting. But the good news is once this core issue is identified, understanding can bring about relief and strategies for feeding the roots of our children’s sensory tree helping them to increase organization and self-regulation.

At Treehouse Family Counseling Services we work with kids dealing with sensory processing difficulties through play therapy aimed at feeding their sensory roots and overall well-being. Sessions may include play activities directed at increasing mindfulness of the body through action play and calming techniques as well as supporting kids in working through patterns of isolation, low self-esteem and poor regulation of emotions.

For more information about how play therapy can help kids with sensory processing issues, call Treehouse Family Counseling Services at 925-820-8447, ext 700 or visit us online at Thank you!