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Occupational Therapy for Children who have Sensory Processing Difficulties

Sensory processing is the term used to describe how the information we receive from each of our senses visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), vestibular (movement & balance), proprioception (body awareness) is taken in, sorted and interpreted by our brain and body.  

For some children, the way in which the sensory information is processed can affect their ability to plan and organise themselves and their movements. In addition, it may also affect how a child responds to the sensations in their environment, learns, manages their emotions, and their ability to engage in everyday activities.  

The Royal College of Occupational Therapy states that a person’s sensory issues must be considered in the context of their occupational engagement and performance in the relevant environment.  Goals/ outcomes must be clearly related to the occupational engagement, performance and participation of a person and intervention must be regularly reviewed for effectiveness.

Sensory strategies that can be used within the framework of Occupational Therapy models of practice aim to:

  • Manage (not change) the sensory needs of the person.
  • Management through adapting the environment, modifying the task or developing strategies to self-manage their sensory needs.

There is no specified level of qualification in sensory processing/integration specified or expected of occupational therapists by the Health and Care Professions Council, the regulator of occupational therapists in the UK.

Children’s Occupational Therapists have the skills to identify an individual’s sensory strengths and differences and their impact on daily activities as part of their assessment of a person’s occupational performance.


Ayres Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) is a tool used by some occupational therapists to address a person’s sensory needs. SIT aims to change a person’s sensory processing through direct, intensive therapeutic input and is delivered by occupational therapists who have undertaken certified postgraduate training. The research evidence is inconclusive regarding the impact of SIT on daily life activities.

There continues to be much debate and controversy regarding Ayres sensory integration Therapy. Evidence for SIT remains largely anecdotal in nature and there remains little conclusive scientific evidence to support the use of SIT in the general population.

Therefore, in line with the strongest evidence base currently available, and guidance from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, we do not provide Ayres sensory integration.


Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Fifth Edition); sensory differences are considered a symptom rather than a diagnosis. The Royal College of Occupational Therapy (RCOT) do not therefore support the use of SPD as a diagnostic label.


Our NHS service offer:

Pre-school children;

School age children:

  • An occupational therapy-led workshop for school staff that aims to explain why some children might have difficulties with sensory processing and modulation, and offer strategies and ideas to help manage these difficulties. This workshop is free for all schools within South and West Suffolk (excluding the geographical area covered by the Great Yarmouth and Waveney NHS Care Commissioning Group). School staff in schools in South and West Suffolk can self register for the workshop using their school email address.
  • School age children are offered NHS occupational therapy sensory advice via the Local Authority SEND Graduated Response Process. This process is led by the Specialist Education Services (SES) team of the Local Authority. Referral to occupational therapy must be supported by the Communication & Interaction Team or the Whole School Inclusion Team before a referral can be made by the school SENCO.
  • An occupational therapy-led workshop for parents, families and carers looking for practical advice and strategies to address common sensory processing difficulties, linked to everyday activities, such as dressing, eating, hair washing, sleeping etc. and how to manage a child who is over or under sensitive to sensory input.