These 5 Problem Behaviors are Actually Sensory-Related

February 23, 2021 • by Abigail Feltner-Smith
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Sometimes a child's most difficult behaviors have a very logical (and treatable) explanation. This is often the case for kids who have Sensory Processing Dysfunction.

Does your child:

  1. Become irritable with dressing or grooming tasks (brushing teeth, washing hair, trimming fingernails, haircuts, etc.)?

  2. Avoid moving surfaces like suspended bridges at the playground or swings/slides?

  3. Have a noticeably high or low threshold for pain?

  4. Overreact to or strongly dislike certain qualities of their environment, such as certain smells, sounds, being touched, etc.?

  5. Use too much or too little force when holding or using objects, or when completing tasks like coloring or handwriting?

Here are a few of my favorite go-to sensory motor activities that can help improve your child's regulation at home:

  • Pinwheels can be a really simple but valuable sensory tool for a kiddo's calm-down area. Pinwheels promote deep breathing which can be an effective way of calming down our nervous system. The visual input from the spinning wheel is often motivating for kiddos, resulting in longer, deeper breaths. Blowing bubbles can have a similar effect.
  • Small trampolines are a great source of proprioceptive and vestibular input which can be calming for our nervous system. I like to use trampolines for movement breaks, but you can also incorporate games like red light/green light or "freeze jump" (think freeze dance, but jumping!) to promote the development of higher level skills like impulse control and critical listening. Small trampolines also make a fine addition to homemade obstacle courses!
  • Using weighted input to improve regulation and focus. Tools like weighted blankets can be effective calming tools because they provide deep pressure input. But weighted blankets can often be large, warm, and expensive. I like to tell families to try filling a soccer sock with something like dry beans or rice and using it as a weighted lap pad. Another fun idea is to put a long-sleeved t-shirt on the back of a chair, fill the sleeves, and then drape them over a kiddo's shoulders! Lastly, I like to add stuff to a kiddos backpack and have them wear it for an activity to improve their overall regulation.
  • Puzzles are a great tool to work on fine motor and visual skills, but one of my favorite things to do is work in a little movement when working on puzzles. I like to place the base of the puzzle on one side of the room or hallway, and pile the pieces on the opposite side. The child starts at the puzzle base and uses animal walks to get across the room, pick up a piece, then return to the base. Try this fun Spin the Wheel to see what animal walk to do next!

While this is not a comprehensive list, these are common sensory-related behaviors that often surprise parents. The good news is, Occupational Therapy can make huge gains in helping your child regulate their sensitivities. An Occupational Therapist can also recommend some activities for you to help your child regulate at home. Contact Play Works to schedule an initial evaluation and allow our team to help answer all your hardest questions!

Abigail Feltner Smith
Written by Abigail Feltner-Smith, OTD, OTR/L

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