Understanding sensory behaviour

Understanding sensory behaviour is very challenging as it often requires us to think counter-intuitively about what is going on. Young people with autism are prone to sensory sensitivities which can indicate that they may be hyper (over) sensitive or hypo (under) sensitive. Sensory overload will often lead to challenging behaviour including avoiding situations that the young person can’t cope with. Young people who are hyper-sensitive will at times become fixated on certain objects as a way of blocking out other stimuli which they are finding overwhelming. Young people who are hypo-sensitive will, rather than avoid sensation, actively seek it out. For example, young people who regularly squeeze into small spaces may be hypo-sensitive in terms of their sense of proprioception (body awareness). Exploring sensory behaviours in terms of what form of sensory input the young person is seeking or avoiding is a helpful first step in planning for that behaviour in the future.

To identify possible sensory impacts on behaviour we need to:

• Observe the behaviour
• Look at the possible effects of the seven senses
• Look at possible build up of different sensory information over time
e.g. a full school day
• Have a picture of individual’s sensory preferences and sensitivities
• Introduce sensory items or approaches that calm to help the
• Modify your approach with your new understanding.

The checklist above is taken from a guide written by Falkirk council. Click here to download a really useful free PDF document for parents and carers called Making Sense of Sensory Behaviour. Although the guide is aimed at parents and carers, much of the advice is equally useful for teaching staff.


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