Making Sense of It All

Making Sense Of It All


I’m currently doing research for a new book that I’m creating with my awesome and creative daughter Jade. The main theme is neurodiversity and it's about a community of families that accept and celebrate each other’s neurological differences.

I’ve been listening to the incredible audiobook Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew’ by Ellen Notbohm. In one part of the book, the author talks about the human senses and explains that ‘there are as many as 21 sensory systems at work in the human body.’

I have to confess that when I heard this, I was amazed. I thought there were only five senses. Why did I not know that there are more? Or, did I  just forgot all of them? I doubt it. For a human behavior geek like me, this is just far too interesting to forget.



So, I’m pausing my audiobook because I want to find out more about all the Human Senses.

  What are the Human Senses?

A somewhat complicated but nonetheless brilliant definition of the human senses comes from Dr.William K. Pediaopolis: “Senses are physiological capacities of organisms that provide data for perception... The nervous system has a specific sensory system or organ, dedicated to each sense.

More simply, the human senses are systems in our body and brain that help us perceive and respond to our surroundings as we experience them.

Each sense (or sensory system) is part of the nervous system and is responsible for processing sensory information. A sensory system consists of sensory receptors, neural pathways, and parts of the brain involved in sensory perception.


The Five Basic/Traditional Human Senses








Prenatally, a baby starts developing their basic sensory system as early as conception. During prenatal and postnatal development, fetuses and infants are constantly exposed to self-generated and externally generated multisensory stimulation.



By a year old, most babies have a fully developed basic sensory processing system. They need this to be able to properly explore and function in their surroundings. Without this, they can’t effectively integrate the sensory information around them and this leaves them prone to sensory processing issues and conditions later on in their development. (I’ll go into further detail about this in my next blog.)


The American Common Core State Standards curriculum requires that kids be taught the five traditional human senses by Kindergarten. Although, many kids begin comprehending them by Pre-K and possibly even earlier. Learning the senses allows children a way to understand how their body works and how it adapts and communicates to the world around them.



As we get older, the ability to use our senses diminishes over time.


When you age, the way your senses (taste, smell, touch, vision, and hearing) are able to give you information about the world changes. Your senses become less acute, and you may have trouble distinguishing details.

Most of us have problems with our eyesight or hearing as we age. The same goes for all our senses being affected by the aging process-it’s just part of human nature.


We can reverse the effects of aging by using eyeglasses, corrective lenses and hearing aids, or surgical procedures for these areas of our body, but this is only a temporary fix for the inevitable. While vision and hearing can be corrected by devices and surgery, the loss of certain senses is more of a cause for concern.


If you have trouble tasting or smelling pleasurable aromas, you may lose interest in food and develop a poor appetite. This can put you at risk of poor nutrition. Hygiene may be affected if you can’t detect unpleasant body odor. And safety is a concern if scents from harmful vapors or gases or smoke from a fire go unnoticed.


Besides the traditional five senses, humans also have (up to 16) other just as valuable senses that are often overlooked. A few of these are understood to be:


Thermoception- temperature

Equilibrioception (Vestibular)- balance and special orientation


Proprioception-relative position of limbs

Nausea-digestive system

Interoception (Internal body regulation detection) -hunger,thirst,bladder, bowels, heart rate, etc

Magnetoception- ability to detect magnetic fields


While there is still some debate over exactly how many senses we have, it is safe to say that we have at least more than five.


The weird thing is that as much as we may have so many different sensory systems to work with, typically humans take their senses for granted.


At what age is it that most people forget how to notice their senses?


I ask this because when you look around at the typical adult culture, many people (myself included) sometimes trudge through their everyday life and forget to stop, notice and feel the world around them with their body.


People often forget how to turn off their mind and just listen to their body as it processes its surroundings. They spend too much time thinking about what they are experiencing and forget to notice what they are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and so on.

 If you’ve ever watched a typical toddler navigate themselves around a room, you will see that they are in tune with every sense they feel and respond to these experiences that much more than most adults. Sights, sounds, touches, smells and tastes all seem so new and vivid to them.


So…how can we take notice of our senses more?


As much as I can, I try to stop, notice, and feel my senses during everyday experiences.

I try to be more mindful. It feels great and it helps me make sense of it all! How about you?


Tracy Bryan writes whimsical books for kids ages 4-12. She likes to tackle important and diverse topics that affect kids and their families.

Stay tuned for Tracy and Jade Bryan's new picture book called Spectrum


 STOP, NOTICE, and FEEL your senses with a mindfulness sensory activity here