Sensory Processing: Your Online Brain Store
By Michaela Gordon, OTR/L
The brain is a complicated organ that we continue to study and understand. Sensory processing is a complex process that occurs in the brain. I wanted to come up with a simple way to explain the process.
To do this, let’s think of our brain as an online store, the sensory information as the products available to order, and the packages as what is sent out for delivery after an order has been made.
Normally on the store’s website, there are pages of different types of products made for different uses. Some of those “sensory products” will come from our environment such as sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Some of the sensory products will be “store brand products” coming from inside the body such as movement from the inner ear, proprioception from the joints and muscles, and interoceptive input, which is the felt sense that tells you what’s happening in the body like temperature changes, hunger, thirst, needing the restroom, etc.
The sensory products are scanned and selected by the person as they go about their day. Some of these sensory products are hand-picked such as “you may like” while others are just there and you must shift through what is relevant for you and what is not.
The sensory order gets sent through the brainstem, which is the main delivery route for sensory products (except for smell which has its own special delivery), and then gets dispersed to the various departments of the brain store.
Once that sensory order has been placed, the brain then has to look at that order to see what’s on the list, determine what those items are, and what they mean. Special instructions are then created that will go into the delivery package with the sensory products so the person knows what to do with the products once they are ready to use them.
Now the brain is a very savvy business owner and committed to being environmentally conscious, so it’s not going to send you out one package at a time with one product. The brain is going to put all the products together with the best instructions on how to use these products in combination.
Once you receive your package, you open it and use the products to take action. The items in the package along with their special instructions will help you to take action with your body, engage in daily activities, and socialize with those around you. In other words, these are the things you need to interact with your environment.
As you interact with the environment, you go back to the online store where you continue to browse, purchase, and use the sensory products. This is a continual cycle that keeps you hopefully living your best life!
Everyone has their own unique “online brain store” that will dictate what products are available and how efficient the brain store is with managing incoming orders, communicating between departments, and providing you with the best-delivered products with instructions possible.
Pediatric occupational therapists are trained to analyze an individual’s online brain store and how it is functioning so we can make sure their sensory shopping is a pleasant and effective experience!