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Sensory-Seeking Behavior: What Is It and How Can We Help Our Kids?

Updated: Mar 16

A child in a sensory swing

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Does your child constantly seek sensory stimulation? Are they always on the move, touching, smelling, and tasting everything in sight? If so, your child might have sensory-seeking behavior. Sensory-seeking behavior is a common trait in children with sensory processing difficulties, autism spectrum disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In this article, we'll talk about what sensory-seeking behavior means and how it can affect your child's day-to-day activities. We'll also share some tips and ideas to help you support and handle these behaviors in your kids, giving them what they need to do well.

By learning about sensory-seeking behavior and giving your child the right kinds of activities and adjustments, you can help them handle the world better and enjoy life more.

Understanding sensory-seeking behavior for kids

Sensory-seeking behavior refers to the constant need for sensory stimulation. Kids with sensory-seeking behavior actively seek out sensory experiences to satisfy their sensory cravings. This behavior manifests in various ways, such as excessive touching, smelling, tasting, jumping, spinning, or seeking out loud noises. These actions help them regulate their sensory system and provide them with the sensory input they need to feel calm and focused.

It's important to note that sensory-seeking behavior isn't always problematic. In fact, it can be a healthy way for kids to explore their environment and learn about the world around them. But when sensory-seeking behavior becomes excessive or interferes with daily activities, it may indicate an underlying sensory processing difficulty or other neurodevelopmental condition.

It's important for us to figure out why our kids might be seeking certain sensory experiences so we can help them better. Let's dive into this a bit more in the next section.

Common signs and symptoms of sensory-seeking behavior

As parents, noticing the signs that your child might be seeking certain sensory experiences can help you understand and deal with these behaviors sooner. Although every child is different, there are some usual signs you can watch for that might show sensory-seeking behavior:

  1. Constant movement: Children with sensory-seeking behavior are often in constant motion. They may have difficulty sitting still, constantly fidget, or engage in excessive running, jumping, or climbing.

  2. Intense sensory seeking: These children actively seek out sensory experiences and can be seen touching, smelling, tasting, or exploring objects and surfaces around them. They may enjoy rough play, seek out loud noises, or have a preference for certain textures or smells.

  3. Impulsivity: Sensory-seeking behavior is often accompanied by impulsivity. Children may have difficulty controlling their impulses, engaging in risky behaviors, or acting without considering the consequences.

  4. Overwhelm and sensory overload: Despite seeking sensory stimulation, children with sensory-seeking behavior can become overwhelmed by excessive sensory input. They may struggle in environments with bright lights, loud noises, or crowded spaces, leading to sensory overload and meltdowns.

Each child is unique, and not all kids with sensory-seeking behavior will display the same signs and symptoms. If you think your child might have sensory-seeking behavior, it's a good idea to talk to an occupational therapist or another healthcare expert who knows about these things. They can help figure out what's going on and offer advice on how to help your child.

Causes and factors contributing to sensory-seeking behavior

Lots of things can play a part in why kids seek certain sensory experiences. Knowing about these factors can help us parents and caregivers come up with good ways to help meet our child's sensory needs.

Here are some common causes and contributing factors:

  1. Sensory processing difficulties: Sometimes, when kids seek certain sensory experiences a lot, it could be because their sensory system, which helps them understand what's happening around them, might not be working as well as it should. So, they might be looking for extra sensory input to make up for that.

  2. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Many kids with ASD often seek out sensory experiences. It's thought that as many as 70% of them do. These behaviors might help them handle sensory stuff better and deal with feeling overwhelmed by it.

  3. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Another condition that's linked with sensory-seeking behavior is ADHD. Kids with ADHD can often act impulsively and be really active, and part of that might involve looking for sensory experiences.

  4. Sensory deprivation: Sometimes, kids might seek out sensory stuff because they're not getting enough sensory experiences. If they're not getting to explore things or feel different sensations enough, they might go looking for those experiences themselves.

Sensory-seeking behavior can be affected by a mix of these things, and every kid's situation might be different. Talking to experts who know about sensory stuff and brain development can help figure out why your child does it and what might help.

Young children playing with building blocks with their parents on the floor

The impact of sensory-seeking behavior on daily life

When kids are always seeking sensory experiences, it can really affect how they go about their day and how well they do things. While it's normal for them to want sensory input, if they're always seeking it too much, it can make it hard for them to do regular activities and get along with others. Here are some ways it might affect your child's life:

  1. Academic performance: When kids are always seeking sensory experiences, it can make it tough for them to concentrate and focus in class. They might have trouble sitting still, paying attention, or finishing their work, which can make it harder for them to do well in school.

  2. Social interactions: When kids are always seeking sensory experiences too much, it can affect how they get along with other children. Other kids might find their behavior a bit disruptive or not understand why they're always seeking sensory experiences. This could make it hard for them to make friends or keep them.

  3. Safety concerns: Some sensory-seeking behaviors can pose safety risks for children. Engaging in risky behaviors, climbing on furniture, or seeking out dangerous sensory input can result in accidents or injuries.

  4. Emotional well-being: When kids are constantly seeking sensory experiences,

  it can also affect how they feel emotionally. They might get frustrated, overwhelmed, or anxious when they can't get the sensory input they want. This could lead to them having meltdowns, mood swings, or finding it hard to control their emotions.

Knowing how seeking sensory experiences affects your child's everyday life can help you come up with good ways to help them handle it. Next, we'll look at some strategies that can support and manage these behaviors in children.

Strategies to support and manage sensory-seeking behavior

Helping your child with sensory-seeking behavior means using lots of different approaches that fit their own needs and likes. Here are some ideas to make their environment supportive and help them learn to control themselves:

  1. Provide sensory breaks: Kids who seek sensory experiences often do well with regular breaks during the day. These breaks can be fun activities that give them sensory input, like swinging, bouncing on a trampoline, or playing with sensory toys. Setting up a sensory routine, with help from an expert, can be really helpful in meeting your child's sensory needs.

  2. Offer alternative sensory outlets: Encourage your child to explore sensory stuff in ways that are okay. Give them options, like a box filled with different textures, a special corner with squishy things to touch, or a fidget toy to help with their sensory needs.

  3. Establish routines and predictability: Creating a structured and predictable environment can help children with sensory-seeking behavior feel more secure and regulated. Establish consistent routines, use visual schedules, and provide clear expectations to reduce anxiety and support self-regulation.

  4. Teach self-regulation techniques: Help your child develop self-regulation techniques to manage their sensory-seeking behaviors. Teach them deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, or simple relaxation strategies that they can use when they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.

  5. Collaborate with professionals: Working with professionals, such as occupational therapists or sensory integration specialists, can provide valuable guidance and support. These experts can check things out, make plans that fit your child, and give you ideas that work for them.

It's important to remember that what works for one child may not work for another. Each child's sensory needs are unique, and finding the right strategies may require some trial and error. Patience, flexibility, and open communication with your child's healthcare team are key to effectively supporting and managing sensory-seeking behavior.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home is essential for supporting a child with sensory-seeking behavior. Here are some tips to make your home more sensory-friendly:

  1. Designate a sensory space: Set up a dedicated sensory space where your child can engage in sensory activities and seek sensory input. This space should be quiet, comfortable, and stocked with sensory toys, tactile materials, and other sensory-friendly items.

  2. Consider sensory-friendly lighting: Bright or flickering lights can be overwhelming for children with sensory-seeking behavior. Consider using dimmable lights or adding diffusers to create a calming and sensory-friendly atmosphere.

  3. Use noise-cancelling headphones: If your child is sensitive to noise or seeks out loud sounds, providing them with noise-cancelling headphones can help regulate their sensory input and create a more peaceful environment.

  4. Provide a variety of sensory experiences: Offer a range of sensory experiences within your home environment. Include items with different textures, scents, and tastes to cater to your child's sensory preferences and provide opportunities for sensory exploration.

  5. Establish sensory-friendly routines: Incorporate sensory activities into your daily routines. For example, include sensory play before bedtime to help your child wind down, or incorporate sensory breaks between academic tasks to support focus and attention.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment at home can provide your child with a safe and supportive space to satisfy their sensory cravings and regulate their sensory system.

A child making animals with geometric shapes

Sensory activities and therapies for children with sensory-seeking behavior

Engaging in sensory activities and therapies can be highly beneficial for kids with sensory-seeking behavior. These activities and therapies provide opportunities for sensory input, help improve self-regulation, and promote overall well-being. Here are some popular sensory activities and therapies:

  1. Sensory play: Sensory play involves engaging in activities that stimulate the senses, such as playing with sand, water, or sensory bins filled with various materials. Sensory play encourages exploration, creativity, and sensory integration.

  2. Swinging and bouncing: Swinging and bouncing activities provide vestibular input, which helps children regulate their balance and body awareness. Install a swing indoors or outside, or a trampoline in your backyard, or consider visiting a sensory gym for specialized equipment.

  3. Deep pressure activities: Deep pressure activities, such as using weighted blankets or engaging in deep pressure massage, can help calm and regulate the sensory system. These activities provide proprioceptive input, which helps kids feel grounded and secure.

  4. Sensory integration therapy: Sensory integration therapy is a special kind of therapy designed to help with sensory challenges. It means doing activities in a certain way to give kids the right sensory input, so they can get better at understanding and controlling their senses.

  5. Yoga and mindfulness: Yoga and mindfulness practices can promote self-regulation and relaxation. These activities incorporate deep breathing, stretching, and body awareness, which can help children with sensory-seeking behavior feel more centered and calm.

When introducing sensory activities and therapies, it's important to consider your child's individual needs and preferences. You can consult with professionals who specialize in sensory integration to develop a personalized plan that targets your child's specific sensory goals.

Final thoughts

Lots of kids who have trouble with processing sensory information, autism, or ADHD might show sensory-seeking behavior. It's important to get help early to address this. If you think your child might have sensory-seeking behavior or trouble with sensory processing, talk to experts to get them checked out and get advice. With the right help, therapies, and adjustments, kids with sensory challenges can do really well and be their best selves.

You may also like these related articles:

A young girl playing in a ball pit

All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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