It’s More than Just “Being a Boy:” Signs your Child May Need Sensory Input for Self-Regulation

It is often, when I first meet with parents to discuss sensory processing and the sensory needs of their children, the parents will often spd boyrespond with “Oh, he’s just being a boy.” It is a common belief that young boys who are very active and aggressive are just “being boys”; however, boys (or girls) who seem to have a lot of energy may be acting this way in order to fulfill their sensory needs. These sensory needs allow them to function to their best abilities. Specifically, children who move all over the place, touch everything in sight or bump into objects may be seeking movement (vestibular and proprioceptive input) to regulate their own body. Those who participate in these activities require more sensory input than a typical child in order to self-regulate.

Below are some signs in which your child may benefit from occupational therapy to help with regulation and sensory processing:

  1. Constant Movement – This is a sign of low muscle tone and vestibular seeking behaviors. Muscle tone refers to the amount of stretch your muscles have at rest. Children who have low muscle tone have muscles that are not as tight as people with normal muscle tone. As a result, these children may often be constantly moving around and may have a difficult time sitting still as it is easier to run and move than to sit (which requires continuous contraction of many muscle groups).
  2. Using Extra Force or Displaying Aggressive Behaviors – Some children may apply too much force when playing with other children and may accidentally exhibit some aggressive behaviors, such as pushing or touching others too hard during a game of tag or pushing the child in front of them while standing in line. They may also use excessive and unnecessary force while performing certain tasks, such as slamming a door instead of simply closing it. This is a sign that your child may require more sensory input to feel when they are touching things.
  3. Bumping and Crashing – Children who bump into doors or crash into furniture on purpose may also be seeking sensory input to their body in order to self-regulate. They may like the feeling that the force gives to their muscles and joints, which is why they may do these things on purpose. Children who bump and crash frequently have a higher pain tolerance. Although they may not feel hurt when doing these things, they can still get injuries, such as cuts and bruises, which can create a safety concern.
  4. Touching People and Objects – Children who touch everything in sight, including people and other materials in their environment, are often seeking tactile (or touch) input to their bodies. These children should be given appropriate means to receive touch input to calm their system.
  5. Difficulty Listening– If your child does not follow directions or hear you when you call their name, it may mean that your child has difficulty with auditory processing. This means that your child may have a difficult time filtering out irrelevant information in their environment and may seem to tune you out. Occupational therapy can help a child develop the ability to listen to the “right” things and tune out background noise that may otherwise hinder their function.
  6. Speaking Loudly or Making Noises – Using an unnecessarily loud voice or making noises constantly is a sign that your child may have a difficult time processing auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular information. When children want to increase their sensory input, they may use their voice or mouth to make noises as these noises provide extra input to their jaw, mouth and vocal cords.

These issues can mean more than “just being a kid” when these issues are hindering your child’s ability to participate fully in school, playing with other peers, performing household chores or forming relationships with family members. The goal of occupational therapy will be to strategically provide safe and structured sensory input during times of need in order to help your child play and work to the best of their abilities.

4 replies
  1. annabermansalon@gmail.com'
    Anna Berman says:

    I have a 5 yr old boy with these input issues. What can we expect as he gets older? Will this disipate as he gets older? Is there medication to help calm his system?

    Reply
    • TaylorR@nspt4kids.com'
      Taylor Reckert says:

      Hi Anna, I would recommend going to see an occupational therapist if you are seeing some of these signs in your son. The therapist can help design something called a “sensory diet” which is a list of activities and strategies to help provide the input your child needs throughout the day to help him regulate and stay organized. The effects of a sensory diet are usually immediate and cumulative. Activities that perk up your child or calm him down are not only effective in the moment; they actually help to restructure your child’s nervous system over time so that he is better able to tolerate challenging sensations and situations, improve attention, and limit sensory seeking and/or sensory avoiding behaviors. Over time your child will learn that he can hang on of longer periods of time and internally redirect off task or dysregulating behaviors. So as he gets older he will better learn to adapt and utilize these strategies to calm his body and as his sensory systems become restructured he may require less input and eventually some of the signs and behaviors may dissipate. Often children who have sensory difficulties may appear to have ADHD, but I wouldn’t jump to medications. I would go see a skilled occupational therapist first to get a better idea of what your child’s sensory needs are.

      Reply
  2. thesupremecard@hotmail.com'
    Sabrina says:

    Hi, I know it’s supposedly “being a boy” but this perfectly describes my 3 yr old daughter. She is constantly breaking things & crashing into people. She gets really sad after she realizes she’s damaged something or somebody but she can’t seem to prevent herself from damaging the next thing or person she comes into contact with (literally seconds later). How can I help her? Can I do activities with her or would you recommend a therapist?

    Reply
    • Taylorr@nspt4kids.com'
      Taylor Reckert says:

      Hi Sabrina, it sounds like your daughter may be a sensory seeker and is crashing/breaking things because she needs that deep pressure input to her muscles and joints to feel regulated. Some activities you can try right away at home would be animal walks, cushion/pillow squishes, wheelbarrow walks, and bear hugs. Those are safer ways to get that deep pressure input she seems to be seeking out. I would also recommend seeing an occupational therapist because they will be able to put together a “sensory diet” which is a list of activities that will provide your daughter with the input she needs, but in a safe way. Each child has a unique set of sensory needs and an OT can put together a home program that will work for both you and your child.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*