The Benefits of Identifying the Sensory Profile

The sensory profile helps us understand our relationships with the stimuli that surround us and what adjustments we need to make to perform better. If you want to know how to use it to your advantage, read on.
The Benefits of Identifying the Sensory Profile
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 25 April, 2023

Traditionally, in schools and the world of work, they sought a homogenization of the social fabric. In other words, those who were different were pressured to change. Fortunately, today, we’re increasingly aware that diversity enriches us and that understanding it brings great benefits, both personally and collectively. Within this paradigm, lies the sensory profile.

The sensory profile designates an individual pattern, specific to each individual, in terms of the way they process and respond to stimuli. Multiple sensory elements surround us on a daily basis (lights, sounds, smells, textures, etc) and affect our well-being and productivity. Therefore, knowing our sensory profiles will help us make adjustments that favor our success and performance.

The sensory profile

To understand the sensory profile, we first need to talk about Winnie Dunn’s theory of sensory processing. This starts from the basis that we receive information from the environment through our senses.

However, each one of us has a different and sensitive threshold to environmental conditions. For instance, some people need great intensity to perceive stimulation while others can capture elements that are only minimally expressed.

For example, one person may feel really uncomfortable and perturbed by an odor that’s almost imperceptible to another. And, some people greatly enjoy roller coasters while, for others, they’re overwhelming experiences. It all depends on their neurological thresholds.

There are also different ways of regulating the entry of stimuli. Some people remain passively in their environment, allowing things to happen and then reacting to them. On the contrary, there are those who actively make changes to achieve the level of stimulation they require.

According to Dunn’s Sensory Processing Model, combining both variables (neurological threshold and self-regulation), four different patterns of sensory processing emerge. These are four sensory patterns that each have their own characteristics. We’re going to explore them.

Annoyed young man yelling at a woman while talking on the phone
People with high thresholds and active self-regulation manifest reactions such as loud talking and impulsiveness.

1. Sensation seeking

This profile describes the individual with a high threshold and active self-regulation strategy. They need intense and prolonged stimulation and deliberately seek environments or situations that provide them. In a child, this can translate into the following actions:

  • Impulsivity.
  • Playing rough.
  • Talking loudly or yelling.
  • Touching everything around them.
  • Constantly needing to run, climb, or move.
  • Overexpressing affection and not respecting the space of others.
  • Preferring intense flavors or music at high volume.

2. Sensory avoiding

This is the profile of the individual with a low threshold and active self-regulation strategy. They avoid stimuli because they overwhelm them. For example, a child may cover their ears to loud noises, move to another place if their environment is too noisy, or refuse to try new foods. Furthermore, they may reject physical contact, be extremely cautious, and refuse to wear certain types of clothing if they don’t like the texture of the fabric.

3. Sensory sensitivity

An individual with sensory sensitivity has a low threshold (they easily capture stimuli) and passive self-regulation strategy. They don’t avoid stimuli but are really sensitive to them. In fact, they react to them in an intense, exaggerated, and prolonged manner.

Children with this profile often feel overactive or overwhelmed in certain situations and exhibit irritability and moodiness. Moreover, they require more time to process information. This makes them slower or more inhibited.

4. Low registration

The low-registration individual has a high threshold (they need more stimulation) and a passive regulation strategy. They have a tendency to get distracted and lose much of the information in their environment. They also seem indifferent to what’s happening and it’s difficult to attract their attention. In addition, they overlook certain aspects that are obvious to others.

Identifying the sensory profile

As you can imagine, the sensory profile influences the way we function and relate to our environments in daily life. For this reason, it’s important to identify them. There’s a standardized instrument for this purpose. It measures and evaluates sensory processing patterns.

This instrument consists of a questionnaire that can be used with both children and adults. It collects the responses and interactions that the individual gives regarding their environment. In the case of children (from three to 14 years old), their parents, caregivers, and teachers provide the information. That’s because they’re aware of the sensory experiences of their children and their most typical responses and reactions.

On the other hand, when evaluating these profiles in adolescents and adults, they record the frequency with which they engage in each of the analyzed behaviors.

girl climbs a tree
The sensory profile is of great help in the treatment of children with neurodivergence.

The benefits of identifying the sensory profile

Research has found that sensory profiling is especially useful in certain population groups. For example, children with neurodivergence (ASD or ADHD), and developmental or learning disorders. This is because they exhibit a distinctive kind of sensory processing that’s more intense.

Every individual has their own profile. This may or may not conform to the norm in different areas and degrees. Knowing the sensory profile of an individual (child or adult) provides various benefits. For instance:

  • It allows a greater understanding of the individual’s needs and the way they experience reality.
  • It helps them to recognize their strengths and potential. They’re also able to identify the areas in which they’re experiencing difficulties due to sensory processing.
  • It makes it possible to create intervention strategies or apply adjustments. These ease their challenges and leverage their strengths in the academic or work environment, as well as their daily life and interpersonal relationships.

In short, understanding the sensory profiles of children helps us understand that their behaviors may not be due to disobedience, but to a poor fit between their needs and the environment.

For example, to perform properly and feel comfortable, a child with sensory sensitivity will require a calm and non-overly stimulating environment. On the other hand, a child with low registration will demand attention and motivation in a more active way if they’re to pay attention and be productive.

A study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy suggests that using therapy balls as seats benefits the productivity of children with ADHD (as it allows some movement). Research in the same publication also claims that using weighted vests facilitates the performance of children with pervasive developmental disorders (due to the proprioceptive stimulation applied).

Sensory profiles as self-knowledge tools

To identify sensory profiles, the questionnaire must be applied by a professional therapist. However, the people closest to the infant can identify some of their needs by studying how they react to different daily situations. For instance, are they bothered by noises, lights, or textures? Do they often seem distracted and have trouble concentrating? Are they restless and energetic and always alert?

Attending to the above-mentioned factors will make the work of parents and teachers easier. They’ll be able to modify specific contexts and circumstances, so the child feels more comfortable and develops optimally.

In the case of adults, understanding our sensory profiles allow us to seek or claim adjustments in our work environments and personal relationships. Furthermore, they help us understand the needs of others. Therefore, the questionnaire is a really useful self-awareness tool.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.