Sensory Processing Disorders, Self Regulation and Heavy Work

This photo shows a girl who is laying down on a swing and hanging her head

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological condition. This is a condition in which the brain has difficulty interpreting information that comes in through the senses.  This means that pathways  from the sensory systems (including eyes, ears, tastes, smells, joints and muscles)  may not be properly understood by the brain.

The brain tends to respond with distress when it is not able to understand information. This tends to result in a flood of mis-matched chemical reactions throughout. Problems with social behavior, motor skills  and emotional  control are usually seen when this happens. This type of  outcome is commonly referred to as  a deficit in Self-Regulation.

Most children who have Sensory Processing Disorders can be overly  sensitive or hyper-reactive  in their responses to seemingly incidental events of the surroundings. At other times however, they seem to lack sensitivity and seem to be totally unaware of what an appropriate response would be.  Heavy Work seems to be helpful in both situations.

The types of sensory input that bring about the uneven behavior is often related to unexpected sights or  sounds of the surroundings.  At other times simple  touch sensations from people or clothing, smells, tastes, or even awareness of body movement can bring about an uneven response.  Once again, Heavy Work can be helpful.

Depending upon the temperament of the child,  unexpected sights can bring about either a hyperactive or an under-active response. 

For example, the preschooler shown here is showing a hyperactive response to unexpected visual input.  It looks as though her younger brother is about to touch her face. She can’t figure out what to do, so she pulls back and begins to cry.

The response of this preschooler shows that she would likely benefit from a home program that includes Heavy Work. Heavy work tends to produce a better balance of alerting and calming chemicals within the nervous system.

Research has shown that when children tend to over respond to mainly  one type of sensory input, they typically  over respond in a more subtle manner to other forms of sensory input as well.  For example, the response shown in this photo is a signal that this preschooler’s  nervous system is in all probability poorly balanced. A tendency to over respond to visual and/or touch sensations  generally points to  excess  production of   alerting chemicals within the nervous system.    A well-balanced nervous system typically produces both alerting and calming chemicals in response to sensory input.  The chemical balance helps to control or regulate behavior.   

Meanwhile, the preschooler shown in this photo is showing an under active response to the unexpected visual input of seeing  paint on his hands. He seems to lack sensitivity to the feeling  of the paint as it  drips down his arms.  He doesn’t know what to do, so he holds his hands up.

This child would also likely benefit from a home program that includes Heavy Work.  Both  children are showing the lack of a balanced, or regulated responses.  The sight of approaching touch of a toddler usually doesn’t arouse distress.  In the same way, the sight of  paint dripping from your hands usually would arouse a level of concern.

Neither of these children’s  responses to sensory input seem to  be typical.  Instead, these responses point to the likelihood of an underlying sensory processing disorder. Better-balanced nervous systems would help these children participate in social and physical activities with healthier responses. Adjusting poorly regulated nervous systems can be often be achieved  through a home program of activities that include Heavy Work. 

Our previous blogs about self-regulation can provide more information about using Heavy Work activities at home. You can also learn more at and the Sensory Processing Parent Support page.


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