Sensory or Behaviour problem

Is it a Sensory or Behaviour problem?

Is it a Sensory or Behaviour problem?

How will you know if it is a sensory or behaviour problem? This is a question we ask ourselves many times.

Is your child undergoing a behavioural tantrum or a sensory overload? A child throws a tantrum for various reasons. The gain can be an object, attention, or even avoidance of a situation. Have you observed that your child throws a tantrum, and you wondered what was bothering them?

Note it down:

It becomes essential to identify if this child is overwhelmed or seeking a gain. To understand this better, it helps by noting down the behaviours every time the child is upset.

One of my psychologist friends suggested this once: Noting them in the format of ’A-B-C’, i.e., antecedent, behaviour and consequence.

A: The antecedents are the triggering factors that lead to a meltdown. These could be being denied screen time, loud sounds, hunger, etc.

B: Note the behaviour. What is the child conveying through this tantrum? What is the behaviour like during a meltdown?

C: What happened after the child had this meltdown? Was he given the chocolate/ was he held close? Did gentle rocking help? Did the child calm down after being removed from a situation?

Identification of a meltdown as sensory or behavioural problem:

How would you know if it is purely a Sensory or Behaviour problem? The main answer is it can be both! Every want or action has a sensory base to it. The feeling is enjoyed, hence the demand is repeated. Everything we do is based on sensory input. Therefore, an overwhelmed child is most likely to demand removal from over stimulatory space. Also, an agitated child will calm down when given something he wants.

It is important to understand what the meltdown is about:

 The gain from a meltdown can vary as per the reason. Is the child not calming down? Is that even after you gave them something you thought, they wanted? Did talking softly help a little better?

What is the reason for this behaviour?

  • If the want is met, and a child usually calms down after receiving it, it is most likely behavioural.
  • Addressing the ‘why’ of the tantrum will help with behaviour handling. If the child is sleepy, helping take a nap would address the meltdown. Similarly, behaviours related to Hunger, attention, and avoidance of something are addressed appropriately.
  • Sensory Overloads can lead to dysregulation in children leading to meltdowns. Unexpected touches like shoulder taps, sudden clapping in class, and physical exertion can all contribute to meltdowns in children with sensory processing difficulties.
What can you do if it is a sensory problem?
  1. Good regulation helps a child be calm, regulated, and interactive. Therefore, therapy including sensory processing techniques along with delayed gratification, and emotional regulation helps with behaviours mostly secondary to sensory processing disorders.
  2. Children with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and learning disabilities are prone to tantrums because of sensory overload, low frustration tolerance and affected communication skills.
  3. Sensory Integration based approach will help with sensory processing difficulties. Hyperresponsivity or Hypo responsivity to a stimulus is addressed with this therapy. These techniques help a child stay calm, alert, and focused.
  4. Thus, Helping the child with sensory deficits and appropriate behaviour techniques helps better.

Read here about sensory processing disorders.

What can you do when it is a behavioural problem?

Professional guidance can help address behaviours. They include Speech and Communication experts, Psychologists, or Applied Behaviour Analysis therapists.    

What not to do when a child has a meltdown:

Do note, regardless if it is a sensory or a behavioural problem,

  1. The behaviour mustn’t be punished. As behaviours are an extension of communication by children, understanding the cause is important.
  2. Also, not acknowledging the behaviour may not be the best move always.
  3. Identifying signs of sensory overload will help manage a meltdown by using a sensory diet or calming activities.

**Understand this. The way a child processes the sensory inputs will directly impact the way a child behaves.

Read about managing temper tantrums here.

How can we help?

We are a team of trained professionals at 1sp. We can help in areas of not only behaviour issues, counselling, behaviour modifications, and communications, but also sensory processing, sensory regulations, and sensory diets.

Sharing a few Sensory Play Ideas here.

Write to us at or get in touch with us at 1specialplace

Amruta Tamboli
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  • Nagaveni

    My son is 2 and half year old, he is hyperactive and speaks very words,he communicates most of the time through gestures and throws tantrums for getting tooth to go about it

    • Amruta Tamboli

      Hello @Nagveni. Do observe what other factors upset him, like combing, clothes, eating with hands, liking to touch/ smell creams and lotions, and such. Oral motor desensitization and other techniques will help him to accept the toothbrush, and reduce movement needs. I will suggest an assessment to establish the reason for his behaviors. Early intervention, if needed, will help you the best. Best wishes.

  • Mitika

    My daughter is 3 years old. She is verbal and usually convey her needs. She is a good learner and pick up things fast whatever is taught. But never do the things. For example she can eat on her own but want us to feed her. If not she won’t eat. She does know and learn things pretty quickly but never repeat. How do we know about because whatever being taught she repeats them on her toys exactly the way we teach her but not on her own. Is this some kind of sensory or behavioral issue??

    • Amruta Tamboli

      Hello @Mitika. I would encourage play, observation and exploration. Do not set any rules. Assist her in pretend play and provide ideas, ask her opinions. Notice what she does exactly if she is not doing things like she has been taught. For eating, take turns for now. Offer a small plate to her. Make meals, a fun time. She can feed you, or her doll.
      It appears to not be behavioural. Best wishes.

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