Sensory Processing Challenges

This section of the course will meet the learning objective for identifying what sensory processing difficulties a student may experience.

Winnie Dunn's Model of Sensory Processing

Low versus high threshold

Description of thresholds

When sensory information comes in through our receptors to our brain for processing, a person can be labeled as having a normal threshold for sensory information which means that person registers sensory information at a typical level. 

When a person has a high threshold for sensory information, that person requires more sensory input than the typical person in order to regulate themselves and their behavior. For example, a child walking down the hallway should be able to walk with two feet in a walking pattern at a slow and steady pace. A child who skips or stomps down the hallway on a daily basis may have a higher threshold where they are seeking or needing input in the form of movement or pressure through their feet.  When a person has a low threshold for sensory information, that person requires less sensory input in order to react. Typical sensations that do not register as a disturbance to a typical threshold person, are a big deal to those with a low threshold. They "feel, hear, smell, see everything". The sensations may not register as being okay with them as the tiniest sensation may seem very big to that person. 












Sensory Avoiders

Sensory Avoiders:

Have a low threshold for sensory input and actively avoid that input

One might see them:

Craving routine and order so they can have control over the input they experience

Exhibit anxiety when their order or routine is different

Like to be alone where certain sensory stimuli will not be present

Be a picky eater

Be very orderly and neat

Become overwhelmed by sensory input and then become agitated

Avoid social situations

Please answer the following Question

When have you encountered a child or adult who falls into the category of a sensory avoider? Explain what you observed.

Fill in the blanks.

Some people react to stimuli more intensely than the next person. These people would be said to have a sensory threshold.  With this threshold, the person may actively avoid certain sensory input. 

Sensory Sensors or Those with Sensory Sensitivity

Sensory Sensors have a low threshold and therefore notice all around them They may:

Be very distracted as they notice and sense everything to a higher level

Be a picky eater

Be very sensitive to sound or touch from others

Be distracted by the way their clothing feels

Get motion sickness from increased vestibular sensitivity



True or False

  • Sensory sensors may pull away from others touch especially when a surprise touch.
  • Picky eating can be a sign of any person with a low threshold for taste sensations.

Please fill in the correct answer in the blank

Those who would be labeled sensory sensor take more of an  role in their self regulation. 

When have you encountered a child that could be labeled as sensory sensitive or a sensor? Please explain what you observed.

Sensory Seeker

Sensory Seekers: Watch out they are active!

Sensory Seekers seek out the input they need at a higher and/or more intense level as their threshold for sensory input is high. One might see:

Excessive touching of things or people

Chewing on items constantly

Not being able to sit still

May hum or make noises even when not at appropriate times

Like intense sports or movement activities

Bounce or stomp when they walk

Like spicy or crunchy foods















Which student below best fits the description of a sensory seeker?

  • During lecture, a student sits at his desk with his head down on the desk, staring into space.
  • During lunchtime, a student has to wear headphones into the lunchroom or he will have a severe behavioral reaction.
  • During recess, a student likes to sit under the slide by himself and play the same games.
  • During independent worktime, a student stands at his desk and bounces as he completes his work.

Low Registration or Bystander

Low Registration or Bystander

This is more of the passive type of high threshold where much sensory input it needed for the person to respond. These kids may seem to 

Not notice things happening around them

Seem to be unbothered by sensory input even high amounts

Take several name calls to register they are needed 

Not notice things on their face

Not feel pain when others would

Not be very coordinated





True or False

  • A person with low registration has a low threshold for sensory input.
  • A bystander or person with low registration may get bumped by another person and not really notice they were being touched at first.

Fill in the blank

If a person with low registration needs his name to be called several times in a crowded room and in a very  distinct voice, this may be due to 

In conclusion

In Conclusion.....

Winnie Dunn, a well known occupational therapist has a theory to explain the categories a person who struggles with sensory processing may fall into. There are certain characteristics as explained in this unit that very nicely help us to pick out where that person may fall on the continuum. With this knowledge and the help from an occupational therapist, we can better understand the needs of that student!