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Sensory seeking vs. sensory avoiding

We get a lot of questions surrounding what is sensory seeking vs. sensory avoiding behaviors and can an individual experience both at the same time.

Let’s start with defining what sensory seeking and sensory avoiding behaviors are and what they can look like in various individuals who may be struggling with sensory challenges.

Sensory seeking behavior is defined as “the tendency to seek out sensory experiences of the 5 senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight, and taste, as well as proprioception, which is where their body is in space, and vestibular, or movement, input.”

This can look like:

  • Constantly touching people of things around the room

  • Unable to sit still

  • Jumping, rocking or spinning in circles

  • Fidgeting

  • Putting objects in mouth or licking/biting objects or people

  • Smelling objects

  • Thrusting or slamming body into things

  • Bumping into furniture, walls or people

  • Seeking visually stimulating screens or shiny objects

  • Attempts to frequently engage in rough play

  • Making loud noises or talking/singing loudly

Sensory avoiding behavior is defined as: the tendency to be extremely responsive to different sensory inputs of the 5 senses

This can look like:

  • Dislikes being touched or hugged even by family

  • Startled or frightened by unexpected noises

  • Refuse to wear certain clothing textures due to them feeling “scratchy or tight”

  • Avoids playground equipment such as swings

  • Prefer to be in quiet environments

  • Are sensitive to different smells

  • May be identified as a “picky eater”

It is possible for an individual to experience sensory seeking behaviors in some areas, while showing sensory avoidant behaviors in other areas.

We want to help support individuals with both seeking and avoiding behaviors by getting them into as much of a calm and regulated stated as possible.

For the seeking behaviors you want to give the child more of what they are seeking.

For avoiding behaviors you want to systematically desensitize them so they are not as affected by the sensory types that they are avoiding.

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