Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder to better serve participants as an EAAT Volunteer

March 1, 2018

One of the things that a lot of our participants deal with on a daily basis is Sensory Processing Disorder. I wanted to write this blog post to help our volunteers understand how some of our participants process certain things, and how many of them are over sensitive or under sensitive to the world around them in an effort to help them understand why we see some of the reactions that we see in the ring everyday.


Our brains receive a steady stream of sensory information, like the smell of a meal cooking in the kitchen or the feeling of our clothing rubbing against our skin. When your brain receives this information it gives meaning to even the tiniest bits of that information. People with Sensory Processing Disorder have trouble keeping that information organized and responding to it appropriately. There is still very little scientific evidence as to why this happens and how many people are affected by it. Research using brain imaging is giving doctors a better understanding of what exactly happens in the brain that leads to what we know as Sensory Processing Disorder.


A person who is oversensitive may be bothered by certain fabrics or noises, while a person who is under sensitive may have such a high pain tolerance that can lead to them not realizing when they are in danger. We see the reactions to these sensitivities in our riding lessons every day. Sometimes through poor self control, over stimulation can lead to anxiety which can present itself by a person having difficulty controlling their impulses. A person may flee a certain situation or repeatedly ask the same question over and over, and in some cases even harm themselves. This is why we ask our volunteers to keep talking to a minimum and repeat directions in one or two words to their riders. It is in an effort to keep things calm and keep stimulation from outside sources to a minimum.


We may see riders that are resistant to change because they have difficulty adjusting to new situations and surroundings. One of the reasons we ask our volunteers to make a commitment for the entire session is that even just trying to adjust to having a new person in their lesson could make it difficult for them to reach their goals and make progress. We also see people that avoid handling certain objects, which can lead to trouble mastering motor related functions like buttoning clothing, etc. In the ring this may exhibit in a rider not wanting to hold on, hold their reins, or participate in activities that require touching certain objects. Oversensitivity can also lead to irritability and anxiety making social interactions difficult. Another reason we ask people to be calm and quiet and allow riders to engage in conversations and activities in their own time.


As research improves we will gain a better understanding of Sensory Processing Disorder, including how and why people are affected. This is just a little bit of information to help our volunteers understand why some of our riders do the things they do, and why we ask certain things of you all when you come and serve our participants in their riding lessons. I am always happy to point people in the right direction to access resources that will help them to learn even more about some of the challenges our riders face, so don’t hesitate to Ask Sara!











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Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy

916 Billy Bryant Road

Collierville TN 38017


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