The truth about sensory challenges

The truth about sensory challenges

December 16, 2014 - 12:00 pm
More tips on how to explore, and help a child overcome some behaviours

If your child isn’t responding to behavioural approaches it might be time to check to check into possible sensory issues.
When occupational therapists are trying to help children overcome challenging behaviours we often try to figure out the reason for the behaviour.

The acronym SEAT helps me remember four possible reasons:

  1. The challenging behaviour is fulfilling a sensory need of the child.

  2. The challenging behaviour lets the child escape from something the child does not want to do.

  3. The challenging behaviour gets the child attention. Remember for most children it doesn’t matter if the attention is positive (such as praise) or negative (such as scolding). Getting any adult attention is sometimes reward enough.

  4. The challenging behaviour gets the child something tangible such as a toy or something to eat like a chocolate bar.

There are some tools we use to help us figure out the goal of a challenging behaviour when it isn’t readily clear. Today I will share three truths I have learned over the years.

Sensory truth No. 1

Sometimes escape can actually be due to a sensory cause, too. What does this escape that is really sensory look like? Children may throw an arts and crafts activity on the floor. And this looks like escape — throw the craft on the floor and then I don’t have to do it. But these children may want to escape the sensory demands of the craft because they are tactile defensive and are overwhelmed by the feeling of the glue on their hands. They are looking to escape the demand because they can’t make sense of the sensory information from their sense of touch.

Sensory truth No. 2

If your behavioural approaches haven’t worked, try sensory ones. That is, only if you have been diligent, consistent, used positive behaviour management strategies and ensured reinforcers are the best ones that the child wants.

Have you done all this and you still see little or no change in unwanted behaviours? Then try sensory strategies. Remember learned behaviour responds to behaviour strategies but sensory processing challenges respond to sensory strategies.

Sensory truth No. 3

People who have sensory processing challenges can be controlling and manipulative. Sure they can. They are just trying to get through their day. If you or I feel in danger of losing control over what is safe, known and comfortable, we, too, may become manipulative and controlling so we can go back to feeling safe and comfortable again.

Do you want more sensory strategies?  I have written an eBook full of tried, true and tested ones.  Download Sensory and Behaviour:  Strategies.

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