Is It Sensory or Behavioral??

March 16, 2018



This winter has been the worst for the flu! At Aspire Pediatric Therapy, parents have been calling to cancel their children’s appointments. I reassure the parents that it’s ok! Limiting the spread of germs is our priority as well! However, as an pediatric  therapist, I know from experience that when their kids get back into their routines, they’ll behave as though there is a full moon in the night skies!  


Aspire kids have been coming back as they feel better, but when they do they may act out of routine with increased giddiness or they may still be acting low. What happened to the calm transitions? The focus to complete an activity? What happened to the motivation? Why are they behaving this way!?  Do you, as a parent, find yourself asking that question?  Perhaps that’s a question that pops up daily, or only in certain situations or environments.  Is it sensory or behavioral?


Every day our brains are taking in, organizing, and sorting tons of information about our world through our sensory systems: touch, smell, taste, hearing, vision, joints, muscles, and balance.  Every day our senses are being bombarded with stimulus from internal and external sources.  The sensory part of us stimulates us to recall the appropriate and functional responses…the behavioral part of us.  Sensory Integration Processing happens in all the sensory systems; the question becomes what is the cause, not whether its sensory or behavioral.  

Becoming ill and off their regular routines was enough for my kids to feel out of sorts in their daily schedules.  At Aspire Pediatric Therapy, the kids seen may have sensory processing difficulties which makes it hard to respond to changes in transitions, focus, attention, and motivation to take action.


Sometimes as parents, educators, caregivers, we think that if our kids aren’t being attentive or are being too silly, or acting out in a bullying manner/hitting, they’re “just being bad” or we think of them as “lazy”.  We tend to think that these kids have more of a conscious control of their actions when in truth they do not.  It’s the unconscious processing that is at fault! The feedback from their sensory systems is causing them to react in inappropriate or negative ways or actions.


When I look at a kid who is not as organized as he was prior to becoming ill, I am looking for the break down in the sensory systems, the cause of the break down.  When addressing the cause, we are able to help our kids re-organize their sensory systems and be able to regulate themselves throughout their days.  We help them to get to the “just right” or optimal level of arousal to attend, focus, learn the skills that they need to move in and out of various environments, socialize, play, learn, and overcome the challenges of life!  


We are all sensory beings and our responses or actions and behaviors to our world are driven by our sensory systems.  It’s not just sensory or behavioral…it’s both!

Adults and children can be categorized into types of areas based on their ability to process and integrate sensory stimulation…

  • Sensation Seeking- seeks out a strong stimulus, may demonstrate thrill seeking behaviors, love loud noises and fast movement

  • Poor Registration- may be slow to react, be withdrawn, uninterested or bored

  • Sensation Avoiding- wants to be in control of the sensory stimuli in their environments, seek to reduce stimuli, avoids unpleasant stimulation, cautious, and tend to love routines

  • Sensitive to Stimuli-  the overly sensitive type, is easily distracted, acts fidgety, reacts to specific stimuli with aversion or annoyance

Sensory processing disorder

Sensory processing disorder is a condition that exists when multisensory integration is not adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.


Take a minute to talk to your occupational Therapist to gain helpful strategies in your home to assist with these changes.

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