Do you have a sensory kid?


“My Daughter just does not seem to listen, and I know she can hear me.  She just cannot look at me or sit still long enough to hear what I am saying”

“It is quiet time and my student just start to get louder and louder.  He just starts talking over me and the other students.  And the talking just becomes faster and faster.”

“He just looks like he has ants in his pants.  He is bouncing in his seat.  While making noises with his mouth like clicking his tongue or popping his mouth. “


If any of these phrases describes your child, or your student, and the word “ADHD” has come up in conversation, I encourage you to read this article and consider its content before you go any further.

Many children today are being labeled or prematurely diagnosed as having ADHD due to their inability to pay attention or sit still in class.  However, the symptoms of ADHD and the behaviors of a child with sensory needs are very similar.

What are  “sensory” needs? 

All children and adults have sensory needs.  Some have more than others.  A child with “sensory needs” will using demonstrate either sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behaviors.  Some children fluctuate in both extremes.   The child may demonstrate sensory seeking behaviors for body awareness/movement and touch.  When provided with the right balance of this, it can help the child to stay focused and on task.  Noise, some smells, and a lot of visual stimulation can cause sensory defensive behaviors.  When there are too many verbal instructions, too much writing to visually attend to, and too much noise in general, the child may begin to become over stimulated.  As a result, the child will demonstrate sensory seeking behaviors to stay focused or to prevent shut down.


Why is it important to know this?

Once you understand this, you can identify seeking or avoiding behaviors in a child as well as their “triggers”.  A  “trigger” is an event, activity or sensory input that results in a child becoming “overstimulated” or “shutting down”.     Identifying triggers helps the child stay in the “JUST RIGHT” category.  Becoming aware of the child’s sensory seeking or avoiding behaviors also will help you identify as they are becoming less regulated.

Helping your child get in the “JUST RIGHT RANGE”

Once you identify where the child’s “alert state” is, you can use sensory strategies that will be effective in helping him or her calm the “alert state” down.  These strategies are more intense then what another child without sensory needs may use.  Your child may require a break or physical change from the the challenging activity. Movement breaks can be very helpful.  There are also special seats that provide some movement for the child to help with fidgeting and focus.  I have had good success with both of these from Amazon: (contains affiliate links)

Move ‘n Sit Cushion.

Wobble Disk

While this may seem too distracting,  the child may actually be able to get organized much quicker instead on needing multiple interruptions to sit still, be quiet, pay attention, etc.  Avoidance and shut down when completing demanding tasks may seem behavioral, but these behaviors are directly related to the child’s ability to self regulate.

As a parent you may notice what your child tries to do to calm down or certain activities that are calming.  An occupational therapist is someone who is trained in sensory integration and can help you develop a sensory “diet” of sensory activities to help your child get in and stay in the “just right” zone.


Kathleen Yopp, MOT, OTR/L is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist who has been working with children with sensory needs for almost 20 years.
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