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Sensory processing difficulties

What is the Sensory Service?

The Sensory Service is a multi-disciplinary team based at the Ryegate Children’s Centre in Sheffield. We aim to help parents, carers, school staff and young people to have a better understanding of sensory processing and how this impacts on every day life. We provide information and advice on how to adapt activities and the environment to support children’s sensory needs. The team includes Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Clinical Psychology, Speech and Language Therapy.

What is sensory processing?

Sensory processing is the way that our body takes in and makes sense of information. Our senses include hearing, vision, touch, taste and smell, as well as vestibular processing (which helps with balance and movement), proprioception (which is the awareness of our body in the space around it), and interoception (our awareness of our internal body feelings). We use our senses every day to interact with the world.

What might happen when sensory processing becomes a problem?

  • Children might find sensory information overwhelming and they might struggle to cope with certain sensory experiences. They may try to avoid certain things, people or places.
  • Children might find everyday tasks difficult to tolerate, such as showering, wearing certain clothes, eating or teeth-brushing.
  • Children may seek out sensations to help them to regulate in a way that creates a problem in another way, (for example, needing to move a lot during lessons).
  • When children are overwhelmed by sensory information it can make it more difficult for them to communicate their needs.
  • Sensory sensitivities can lead to higher stress and anxiety levels in a child. This in turn can mean they’re more tuned into sensory information and can become overwhelmed more easily.
  • Children may present differently from one day to the next and their sensory needs may be context specific or be influenced by other factors, such as mood, tiredness or stress levels.

Who is the service for?

The service is for any child aged 3-16 years, living in Sheffield, who is having day to day difficulties because of the way that they process sensory information. Children known to the CAMHS Learning Disability service will be re-directed to CAMHS Occupational Therapy, if needing support beyond Universal Provision.  

What is the Virtual Therapy Area?

The Virtual Therapy Area is our universal provision, the first level of service for all families. It aims to provide parents and carers with knowledge, ideas and strategies to support your child or young person with sensory needs that may be impacting on their every day life. These resources are primarily aimed at supporting children who are neuro-divergent; for example, your child may have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) or a combination of these. However, your child may not have any diagnosis, but may present with sensory needs that are creating challenges in everyday life. Or your child might have a different diagnosis and also have sensory needs that are impacting on their day to day life.

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists states “The term Sensory Processing Disorder is not recognized as an independent diagnosis…and should be avoided” (RCOT Informed View, 2021). Therefore, at the Sheffield Sensory Service, we do not formally assess or provide diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder. Our focus is to offer sensory interventions that support a child’s sensory needs by adapting tasks or the environment, and by improving a child’s capacity for self-regulation.

In addition to the virtual resources, our multi-disciplinary team deliver sensory training to Sheffield schools and educational establishments, and we are aiming to support all schools in Sheffield to be ‘sensory accessible’.

If you need these resources in a different language, look at the bottom of the page for a guide to Google Translate.

How to use these resources
  • We strongly recommend that you begin by watching the Theory & Introduction video. This video is quite long, but it will provide the foundation for understanding and supporting your child. It will also help you to better understand the other resources in the Virtual Therapy Area.
  • There are a wide range of resources and strategies to try. We recommend that you do not try to change lots of things at once. Choose what is a priority for you and your family. Implement strategies and changes gradually. This will make it easier for you to work out what is going to be helpful for your child, as well as being more manageable for you as a family.
  • Not all of the resources may be relevant for your child, depending on their age or developmental stage. Some resources may be relevant to you now, but some may provide you with ideas that will be more helpful in future, as your child gets older.

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Theory and Introduction: Understanding Sensory Processing and Your Child

This video explains theories around sensory processing and discusses how and why difficulties can arise. We strongly recommend that you begin by watching this video, as this will provide the foundation for understanding and supporting your child.

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Regulating Sensory Strategies

This video provides some key ideas for supporting sensory regulation, for children and young people of all ages and stages.

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Steam-rollers for regulation

Gym balls are a really useful tool for sensory-based regulating activities. This video shows a simple, but effective technique for helping your child to feel more calm and regulated.

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Superhero rocks for regulation

This video demonstrates one way of using a gym ball that may assist your child’s sensory regulation.

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Using a gym ball during static activities

This video shows some really simple ways of using a gym ball throughout the day to help your child to feel more regulated.

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“Hands On” technique for regulation

This video demonstrates two simple ‘massage’ techniques that can be used to help calm and relax your child.

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Strategies to reduce anxiety

This video shows strategies we can use to reduce feelings of anxiety. When we feel overwhelmed by sensory information, this can result in heightened anxiety, and when we feel anxious, we can become more sensitive to our surroundings. This can lead to a vicious cycle, but there are lots of things we can do to reduce feelings of anxiety and we can learn skills to help calm and sooth ourselves.

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Visual schedules

We know that there is a strong link between sensory processing and anxiety.  If you feel anxious, your sensory processing difficulties can become greater – which in turn, can make you even more anxious – it’s like a vicious circle. Visual schedules, or timetables, can be a really helpful way to reduce anxiety about what is going to happen, by making the routine, expectations or plan more predictable.  This video explains how you could use visual schedules at home with your child.

Picture Symbols to Download

Here are different sets of picture symbols to go with some every day activities that you can download for free and print off to use at home with your child.  You could cut these up to make a visual schedule to show your child what steps of the sequence you need to complete, or to offer choices of which sensory strategy they may want to try to help them.  This will help your child to understand what is going to happen, to feel more in control and less anxious.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Social stories™

Social stories™ can explain situations or concepts to children in a way that they can understand, and can help them know what to expect or what they can do.  This can make situations seem more predictable, which helps to reduce anxiety.  Reducing anxiety is an important tool for managing sensory processing difficulties. This video introduces Social Stories and shares some examples.  For more support in writing them and more examples, look at our resources here, which are free to download.

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Interoception: sensations from inside the body

This video explains more about what interoception is and where challenges can arise. It provides some key strategies to help support your child.

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Dressing

This video offers some tips and ideas to help your child to get dressed and to manage the tactile sensations of clothing.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Eating and mealtimes

This video offers some ideas to help your child with eating and mealtimes. It also talks about how certain foods can assist regulation.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Toileting

Problems with toileting can be difficult to talk about, especially as your child gets older. This video provides some insight into the motor, sensory and behavioural challenges that can get in the way of your child using the toilet independently.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Showering and bathing

The following video may help you to understand the difficulties that your child has with showering or bathing. The short video will discuss the motor, sensory and behavioural challenges and provide some ideas to help you to address these. 

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Hair washing

The following video may help you to understand the difficulties that your child has with hair washing. The short video will discuss the motor, sensory and behavioural challenges and provide some ideas to help you to address these.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Teeth brushing

The following video may help you to understand the difficulties that your child has with brushing their teeth. The short video will discuss the motor, sensory and behavioural challenges around this twice daily task and help you to make some progress.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Sensory preferences in self-care

We all have different sensory preferences. This short video talks about helping your child to choose products they like based on their own preferences of taste, scent and texture, to make self-care tasks easier and more appealing.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Nail cutting

The following video may help you to understand the challenges faced when cutting your child’s finger and toe nails. It may offer you an insight into the motor, sensory and behavioural issues surrounding this task and how you can move forwards together to succeed.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Sleep

This video provides tips to help improve your child’s sleep. The video encourages you to think about and identify what makes your child feel comfortable and calm at bedtime.

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Going out and about

Getting out and about with your child may be quite stressful, especially if you’ve had some negative experiences. This video offers some ideas to help you and your child plan and manage trips out, including what to take with you in your ‘sensory toolkit’.

Download optional picture symbols for visual schedule below:

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Managing challenging behaviours

In this video we talk about challenging behaviour. We think about what challenging behaviour is, and talk about some of the underlying reasons for why we might see challenging behaviour from children and young people. We then focus on the relationship between a child’s sensory needs, and their behaviour, and help you to think about why you might see challenging behaviour and what you can do to help.

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Making Sense of Your Senses booklet

This booklet provides a sensory summary and outlines some of the key strategies to help your child or young person.  You can download and print this booklet for free. Feel free to share this with anybody else involved in your child’s care.

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Sensory Top Tips

Our downloadable ‘Sensory Top Tips’ information sheets provide ideas to help with some of the everyday challenges that children with sensory processing difficulties frequently experience. You can print these off for yourself or to share with other people who know your child.

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Give feedback and request further support

If you have accessed the resources on the Sensory Service Virtual Therapy Area, we would be very grateful if you could complete the following feedback form.

If you have any further questions about any of these resources or if you require any further support with sensory challenges that have not been covered by the Virtual Therapy Area, then please also complete the form below, and a member of our team will be in touch. Please note, this option is only available if you have a Sheffield address and you are registered with a Sheffield GP. Your child must also be between the ages of three and 16 years old. Unfortunately, we are unable to process requests from anyone living outside of the Sheffield area, or for children not within this age range.

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Translating information to your home language: Google Translate

1) Click the Google Translate button:                            

2) Click on your home language. The text will then change

Google Translate may not translate all words correctly. Please contact us on 0114 271 7645 if you have any questions about the text.

Translating information to your home language: subtitles

1) Click the subtitles icon

2) Click the settings icon then ‘subtitles/CC’

3) Click Auto-translate

4) Choose your language

You need to turn on the subtitles for all the videos.

The subtitles are translated through YouTube. Some words may not be translated correctly. Please contact us on 0114 271 7617 if you have any questions about the videos. We can arrange a telephone call with an interpreter if needed.

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