Child Behavioral Challenges vs Sensory Issues

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child behavioral challenges vs sensory issuesIs my child misbehaving or are there sensory issues?

Have you ever wondered if your child’s behavior is due to sensory issues? What exactly is the difference between behavioral challenges and sensory challenges? Well you are not alone according to Kim Morrow, a teli Developmental Specialist.  Kim has heard that question a lot in her job in Early Intervention working with children who are experiencing developmental delays. “A number of our parents come to us for help in identifying the difference,” notes Kim.” We work to understand whether their child’s behavior is due to specific sensory issues or instead just part of their growth and development as they begin to test boundaries, learn about their environment and interact with others.”

What is the difference between child behavioral and sensory issues?

The difference between the two is easily confused and one may contribute or feed the other. One way to sort through the difference is in the way your child’s tantrum can play out. “Children may throw tantrums for a number of reasons. They may want a cookie they are told they can’t have,or seek negative attention from a parent by doing something they were told not to,” notes Kim.  “Behaviorally based tantrums respond well to structure, consistent rewards and consequences, most often they have a purpose and the child is looking for a certain response.  As a result, once a child gets the cookie they desired or your attention, the tantrums typically cease.”

On the other hand, a sensory based tantrum is generally a reaction to feeling overwhelmed. It often has no clear endpoint and does not cease even if given the cookie they want or if redirected to something else. Instead a child with sensory challenges may have a very prolonged tantrum which may end only upon total exhaustion or if the trigger, a touch or a sound for example, is removed.”

What steps should I take if I suspect my child’s behavior is tied to sensory issues?

You should always have a discussion with your pediatrician regarding the behavior you are seeing.  When the meltdowns last an extremely long time, are frequent, and you can rarely do anything to calm them, there is a good chance there is more to the behavior and a health care professional should be consulted.

One thing to consider prior to seeing your pediatrician, is to begin to keep track of your child’s behavioral patterns as journaling helps to tell behavioral and sensory based tantrums apart. “I tell my parents to begin with a journal and document what you observe about your child’s behavior,” explains Kim.” I suggest they include the time of day, the location of the behavior (at home or public place), note what was happening prior to the tantrum occurring, other environmental factors present such as sound, visual, touch, smell, and taste. The length of the tantrum or behavior and the frequency are particularly important.”

What can I do to help my child if they have sensory issues?

As noted above, consulting a health care professional and seeking Early Intervention support through teli’s Pediatric Developmental Specialists and Occupational Therapists can provide you the help you and your child need.  “It is very important to understand your child’s sensory cues/signals and then address those triggers, “explains Kim. “With that information, we can work together to identify changes to the environment and coping strategies to address what seems to be causing your child behavior and anticipate a situation before it happens.”

If you would like to learn more about how Early Intervention can help your child with sensory processing challenges, call teli at 412-922-8322.

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