Sensory or Behavior? So…which is it?


Now, let’s dig deeper still. Sometimes, a child’s reaction is purely sensory, and sometimes, a child’s reaction is purely a typical age-appropriate behavior. Sometimes, it is both. A reaction that began as sensory-related, has now become an ingrained behavior and vice versa. Due to this confusion, sensory and behavior approaches can be used simultaneously.

Something else to consider: sensory processing strategies. By working with an occupational therapist, you can determine whether your child has tendencies towards SUR, SOR or SC (i.e., does not signify an official diagnosis of SPD). A sensory lifestyle (also previously known as a sensory diet) can and should be developed in order to specifically address your child’s needs. If these strategies are used and practiced consistently over a designated period of time, and these strategies do not seem to be impacting your child’s behavior, his issues are likely not sensory-related.

Clues to a behavior issue could include if your child responds well to structure, or if a negative reaction to a behavior can be easily started or stopped. In this case, some behavioral strategies that could work include:

  • Reward charts
  • Routine/daily charts
  • Clearly defined rules which your child is aware of
  • Consistent rewards and consequences
  • Provision of breaks to avoid potential meltdowns
  • Acknowledgement of positive behavior with praise
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Discussion regarding other choices the child could have made
  • Provision/discussion of coping strategies
  • Use of visual schedules for reinforcement

If on the other hand, you are solely implementing behavioral strategies and they are not working, then sensory processing could be an issue. A situation that may indicate a sensory processing issue would be if you give your child what he wants but he is still unable to calm down. In this case, providing sensory strategies/opportunities on a regular basis is essential. Please consult an occupational therapist in order to develop a sensory lifestyle.

If you still have questions, know that you are not alone! Testing whether your child has a sensory-related or behavioral issue is not so cut and dry and it is certainly not an easy task. There are many factors and many complications that can arise. This is what you can do to begin the discovery: investigate; journal; and be aware of the triggers, the patterns noted and your child’s surrounding environment. If you have concerns, set up an appointment with an occupational therapist.

The Therapy Spot is a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy center that offers occupational therapy that helps children improve their ability to perform daily living activities. Click here to learn more about our occupational therapy options.

Share Social

About the Author: The Therapy Spot
The Therapy Spot of Baltimore is a multi-disciplinary pediatric therapy center, featuring an energetic group of experienced and qualified therapists. We provide speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy to children in the greater Baltimore region.