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Understanding Patterns of Sensory Processing

Does your child have a hard time focusing in busy environments? Does your child hate loud noises? Does your child have a need to touch everything? Is your child sensitive to bright lights? Sensory processing describes how the brain breaks down sensory information to interpret and respond to its environment. Everyone has their own sensory processing pattern.

Occupational therapy has the tools to potentially help your child manage those patterns so that they can be successful in their daily activities.

There are 4 main patterns of sensory processing:

1. Low registration - A child with low registration has a high threshold for sensory input meaning it takes a lot of stimulus for them to fulfill their sensory needs. A lot of input is needed for the child to register their environment. This is a child who might have a hard time noticing things. Think of this as having a large glass that needs to be filled with water. The larger the glass, more water is required to fill it. A child with low registration however will not seek out the input needed to fill their cup.

2. Sensory Seeking - A child with a sensory seeking pattern needs more sensory input than they are getting. Their threshold to fill their sensory needs is high. This may look like making noises to fill auditory input, constantly touching things, or frequently spinning or bouncing. This child has a large glass that needs to be filled. A child who is a sensory seeker will seek out additional input depending on their needs.

3. Sensory Avoidant - A child with a sensory avoiding pattern will typically withdraw from a situation quickly rather than react to the stimulus. Their threshold to fill their sensory needs is much lower than the previous two patterns. Think of this as a child having an 8oz glass to fill rather than a 16oz glass.

4. Sensory Sensitive - A child with sensory sensitivity will react to their environment instead of withdrawing from the stimulus. Their threshold to fill their sensory needs is low so they have a small cup and require less stimulus to fill that cup. This may look like covering their ears, displaying signs of irritability, or excessive fidgeting when held.

Need more information? Talk to your occupational therapist to discuss if your child could benefit from interventions geared towards managing sensory needs.


- Dunn, W. 2007. “Supporting Children to Participate Successfully in Everyday Life by Using Sensory Processing Knowledge.” Infants & Young Children 20 (2): 84–101.

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