BEHAVIOR vs. SENSORY                                                Spring 2010 - Issue

By Dan Williams, PT, CSCS, BCN

When we talk about behaviors in a child, we are referring to their actions or reactions (outputs) to their internal or external environment. Behaviors become concerning when they are unsafe, injurious, disturbing or hinder the child’s ability to learn or function. These behaviors may include impulsivity and acting without thinking, fidgeting, inattention, distractibility, crying, throwing a tantrum, defiance, disobedience, anxiety, depression or acts of aggression such as hitting, shoving, kicking or biting.

Behaviors can be willful, conscious or voluntary, where the child meant to do it. Behaviors can also be sensory in origin.  Either way, preventing a behavior from occurring or repeating is the best way to prevent it from being learned.  A learned behavior is one that is repeated following a success, reward or reinforcement, or was allowed to continue uncorrected. Children often use learned behaviors as a coping mechanism to address or deal with difficult or challenging situations. At times, however, there may be an underlying sensory cause for this behavior.

Sensory stimuli are the messages (inputs) an individual receives from its environment through the senses. The five traditional senses include vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste, and humans are considered to have additional senses that include vestibular (balance), proprioception (the body’s awareness in space), temperature, direction and pain.  The integration of these senses, or sensory processing, is the ability of body’s nervous system to receive information from the senses and translate them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Normal sensory integration or sensory processing allows an individual to react appropriately within his or her environment.

Children with sensory processing difficulties may not be able to organize this sensory information, or the sensory messages may be processed inaccurately or inefficiently. As a result, these children react differently to sensory input than others do. Since their internal sensory environment reacts differently to sensory input, they may respond with challenging or unusual behaviors.

A child may be under-responsive, show little or no reaction to sensory stimulation or crave certain sensory input. Conversely, a child may over-responsive, seem to overreact to stimulation and avoid certain sensory input. The under-responsiveness or over-responsiveness can affect just one single sense, or multiple senses. This disorganization or misinterpretation of sensory information has often been compared to a rush-hour traffic jam.

Atypical behaviors that have an underlying sensory cause are still behaviors and must not be overlooked. To not address these behaviors because they have are sensory in origin is to excuse inappropriate or socially unacceptable behavior and may eventually affect an individual’s ability to succeed in marriage, work and social environments well into adulthood. Although a sensory problem is often accompanied by a behavioral concern or coping strategy, traditional behavior interventions and positive reward approaches may only be partially successful or may cause the behavior to become worse if the sensory processing aspect is overlooked. If the sensory component is not addressed, the child may become frustrated and begin to act out in a different or more intense manner.

Children with sensory processing difficulties can benefit from Occupational Therapy evaluation and treatment with a sensory integration approach. Occupational Therapy services utilizing a sensory-rich environment, or sensory gym, help to foster appropriate responses to sensory stimulation in an active, fun and meaningful manner. One goal of Occupational Therapy is to have the child behave in a more functional manner and be able participate in everyday typical social situations at home, school and in public. The Occupational Therapist may also design a personalized sensory diet for the child, which is a set of therapeutic activities and exercises for the parent to participate in with the child in home and public situations prescribed to meet the child’s unique sensory needs. A child whose nervous system is over-reactive would need more calming input, while a child who is more under-reactive would require more arousing input.

Infants, young children, teens, and adults with mild to severe sensory processing difficulties can all benefit from a personalized sensory diet. The effects of a sensory diet can help to restructure a child’s nervous system over time so that he or she is better able to tolerate sensations and challenging situations, regulate self-alertness and increase attention span, limit sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors, and handle transitions with less stress.

An Occupational Therapist certified to administer the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT) can help to further identify and understand why some children have difficulty learning or behaving as expected by evaluating certain aspects of sensory processing that are related to social behavior, language development and academic achievement.


By Barry Smeltzer, PA-C

It rings true for babies, even more so for parents of chronically sick children.  Getting children to sleep is a process for any parent.  Every parent has developed a routine that will let their child know it is time to wind down and get ready for bed.  Even on the best of days and with children that are perfectly healthy, this process needs to be done so the child gets the signals that the day is coming to an end and the time to go to bed is getting closer.  How that process is initiated and the steps prior to bed are as varied as the children themselves.


When children are acutely ill (colds, fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea, etc.) their sleep patterns usually are affected.  They don’t sleep consistently, the need for sleep increases, and they disrupt their own bodies' natural sleep cycle.  Once the child recovers, however, that natural rhythm of sleep and awake time will usually reset itself over time.  


What would happen if that child was never fully healthy?  What if he or she always had some level of underlying issues that affected their health?  Would there be a time when they would naturally be able to reset their sleep cycle clocks and restore their natural rhythms, or would they simply deplete their body’s stores of the natural sleep inducing hormones and proteins while trying to recover?


Up to 83% of these chronically sick children have some difficulties with sleep.  Whether it is initiating sleep or sustaining sleep through the night, it is a frustrating and debilitating problem for both the sick child trying to deal with these chronic issues and the parents trying to guide that recovery.   The ultimate goal to improving sleep and the overall health of these children is to identify and ultimately treat effectively the chronic disorders that are keeping them from healing, sleeping, and developing into healthy children.  

In order to start the healing process, children need help not only initiating sleep, but also maintaining sleep through the night.  There are multiple ways to help with sleep.  Outlined in Figures 1 and 2 are different angles to help create an environment conducive to sleep and supplements that will help restore the depleted hormones and proteins that are involved in restful sleep.


Tuesday, May 4th

& Tuesday, June 8th

6:30 to 8:30 PM       More Information

Seating is limited.

Please contact SIRRI at (480) 777-7075

or e-mail to confirm one of these dates.

If you are unable to attend either date,

please call for a free one-on-one Consultation.


The United States recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community and to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism.

April 2nd is designated as World Autism Awareness Day by the United Nations and will be recognized all over the world.


You may have been a client prior to SIRRI offering these services for both children & adults:

  • Occupational Therapy: fine/gross motor, praxis, self-care & sensory processing skills
  • Neurofeedback & Biofeedback
  • qEEG / Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Retraining: memory, processing & problem solving skills
  • Attention, Concentration & Focus Training
  • Reading Development: fluency & comprehension
  • Balance, Coordination & Motor Planning Development
  • Stress & Anxiety Management



"Did you enjoy your first day at school?"


"First day? Do you mean I have to go back tomorrow?"




"Would you punish me for something I didn’t do?"


"Of course not."


"Good, because I haven’t done my homework."


NEW TREATMENT FOR HYPERACTIVITY IN CHILDREN:           Thought-Operated Computer System

ScienceDaily (January 11, 2010)

A new thought-operated computer system which can reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children will be rolled out across the UK this month. Professor Karen Pine at the University of Hertfordshire's School of Psychology and assistant Farjana Nasrin investigated the effects of EEG (Electroencephalography) biofeedback, a learning strategy that detects brain waves, on ten children with an attention deficit from Hertfordshire schools.

They used a system called Play Attention, supplied by not-for-profit community interest company, Games for Life, three times a week for 12 weeks. The system involves the child playing a fun educational computer game whilst wearing a helmet similar to a bicycle helmet. The helmet picks up their brain activity in the form of EEG waves related to attention. As long as the child concentrates they control the games, but as soon as their attention waivers the game stops.

The researchers found at the end of the study that the children's impulsive behaviour was reduced, compared to a control group who had not used the system. "Children with a diagnosis of ADHD find it hard to control their impulses and inhibit inappropriate behaviour," said Professor Pine, "This can lead to educational and behavioural difficulties. The Play Attention method may prevent long-term problems by helping the children to be less impulsive and more self-controlled."

Professor Pine and Dr. Rob Sharp, a senior specialist educational psychologist, are continuing to work on futuristic projects with Ian Glasscock, Managing Director of Games for Life. A means of assessing learning in children with severe communication and physical difficulties by a thought-controlled computer game method is likely to have considerable potential for these children who cannot operate a computer manually.

"Attention-related difficulties including ADHD affects many children, young people and adults and has a significant impact on their lives," said Mr Glasscock. "Mind-controlled educational computer games technology is the only intervention shown to reduce the core symptoms of ADHD; historically medication may have been prescribed for the child." Games for Life plans to roll out this new system across the UK this month.




Do you send your child to his room to do homework?  Is the room so full of distractions that it is impossible for him to stay on task?  Is your child constantly wasting time before homework because he cannot find the materials he needs? 

Your solution: Create a special homework center with your child and eliminate the distractions and wasted time.  The more you get your child involved in this process the more special the area becomes to your child! 

1.  Find an area that is conducive to doing homework.  It should not be in the center of the home where there are lots of visual and auditory distractions.  To get your child involved in the decision making process pick out 3 areas and let him choose which area he would like the best.

2. Make a list.  Sit down with your child and make a list of all of the items needed in the homework center.  Items may include pens, pencils, lined paper, an in-box for homework assignments, an out-box for completed assignments, calculator, bookshelf, scissors, trashcan etc.  If you plan wisely there should be no more, "but mom I can't find...".

3. Make certain you have a clean workspace with a comfortable chair.  You may choose to include a bean bag so he can be nice and comfy when reading.  You may want to include a chair for yourself so you will have a spot when reviewing the homework.

4. Have a timer.  Timers are a great way to teach time management.  Include a timer in the homework area so you can set up time limits for different assignments.

5. Post a bulletin board so you can post good grades, personal goals, or a reward board. 

Taking the time now to create a special homework center with your child can save you a lot of time and energy in the end.  And it may just make homework time a little more enjoyable!

SIRRI Arizona • 4515 S. McClintock Drive, Suite 208 • Tempe, AZ 85282
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