Is It SENSORY or BEHAVIOR?

Let’s first start by defining what these words mean. 

Sensory processing:
  • Umbrella term that demonstrates the entire process of how our brain registers and organizes sensory input from the outside world to then be able to generate responses based on that input so that we can navigate and interact with our environments (Schauder & Bennetto, 2016). 
Behavior: 
  • Behavior is anything a living organism does and can be observably measured.
  • Walking, tying shoes, singing, playing basketball, writing, reading, eating, talking, listening, looking, getting out of a seat, sleeping, and brushing  your teeth are ALL BEHAVIORS. 
  • We all engage in behaviors to either get things we want or to avoid thinks we don’t like  (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). 

Don’t ask if it sensory or behavior, ASK: What are they doing? Why is it happening?  SENSORY IS A BEHAVIOR!  

The situation being observed can look similar but the individual is doing it for different reasons.  Even though something looks like it could it could be due to seeking sensory input or avoiding sensory input it may be for a different reason altogether and they have learned that engaging in these actions serves what they want and so they continue on. Take a look at these examples. 

Katie comes to sit down and sees her math worksheets laid out.  The teacher starts to talk with another peer at the table. Katie starts to jump up and down in her seat. Her teacher stops talking to the other peer and tells her to have a calm body.  Now every time she comes to the table with her peers she starts jumping up and down in her chair. 

Katie may be jumping up and down to gain attention from her teacher. 

Katie is jumping on the trampoline, her teacher comes over and tells her that it is time for her to go to the table to do some work. Katie is jumping up and down as she walks to the table. She sits down at the table.  Her teacher hands her a preferred toy and is giving her verbal praise for coming to the table. Katie continues to jump up and down in her seat. 

Katie may be jumping up and down because she is indeed seeking sensory input that she finds pleasurable. 

Katie comes to sit down at the table. She reaches for the fidget toy that is nearby. The teacher says she can have it after she finishes her work. Katie starts to jump up and down in her seat. The teachers says “Ok 1 minute  and then we have to get to work!” Now every time Katie sits at the table she jumps up and down. 

Katie may  jumping up and down because she wants to play with the toy. 

Katie comes to sit down and sees her math worksheets laid out. She starts jumping up and down in her seat. The teacher takes her back to the trampoline, because she thinks she needs to get her energy out. Now when Katie comes back to the table she  jumps up and down in her seat. 

Katie may  jumping up and down so she doesn’t have to do her math worksheet.  

Put your detective hats on and figure out really WHY something is happening. Just because it looks the same doesn’t mean the reason is the same. Work together with a BCBA and an Occupational Therapist to make sure you have an intervention plan that matches the function if indeed the function is sensory related.