Sensory Behaviors

Categories: Data | Interventions

Alternative Response

The main way to target sensory behaviors is to see if you can think of an alternative response that is more appropriate. Some type of response that in some way meets those same sensory needs. Once you identify an alternative response, you need to teach and shape that responses just like with attention and escape behaviors. Provide the student regular and consistent access to the alternative sensory response. You want them to be engaging in this behavior over the problem problem behavior.
An alternative response can be an activity or engaging with some type of item. This is why sensory toys are so popular for kids with autism. The abilitations catalog has countless sensory items and it can also give you ideas for things you can make on your own (if you don’t have a ginormous budget). Learn more about these strategies here

Sensory as a Reinforcer

Some sensory behaviors can actually work to your benefit. These behaviors are obviously extremely reinforcing for your student because they do it all the freaken time. If the behavior is not dangerous, so for disruptive sensory behaviors – let your student work for engaging in the behavior. This will start to teach the concept of discrimination we talked about earlier this week. Teaching our students when it’s appropriate to engage in the response and when it is not appropriate. And you’ll get a little work done in the meantime.

Learn more about this strategy here

Sensory Spot

Another play on this intervention – designate a specific spot as the ‘sensory spot.’ A certain chair, corner of the room, or part of the carpet where these sensory behaviors are allowed – pending it is not a dangerous behavior of course. Remember, we all do sensory behaviors. We twirl our hair, bite our nails, grind our teeth, etc. Not all of these behaviors are bad and our children with autism tend to just have more extreme versions of these behaviors. We don’t need to necessarily get rid of them but rather teach discrimination on when these behaviors are appropriate. We can teach our students to make them more discrete so they are not disruptive and do not cause the child to be ostracized. Some of these behaviors may  limit social opportunities and inclusion.

Reinforce Intervals without Behavior

An intervention to reduce both disruptive and dangerous sensory behaviors is providing high magnitude reinforcement for time intervals WITHOUT the behavior. This intervention can be done with any type of behavior really – attention, escape, etc. The key is to provide some really stellar reinforcement. You asking the child to reduce a behavior that they probably have a very long history with and a behavior that is very reinforcing. They aren’t going to do all the work of reducing the behavior for jelly bean or two. Use high powered reinforcers with this interval!

Learn more about this intervention here

Response Blocking

Some sensory behaviors can be extremely dangerous. Anything that involves the head can cause serious brain damage and needs to be addressed immediately. These behaviors are of highest priority. If your student or child is seeing a psychiatrist for medication, ask the parents for consent to communicate with the doctor so you can share the data you take regarding the behaviors at school. With these types of behaviors, medication might be something to  consider. You can also block or prevent the full engagement of the response for dangerous sensory behaviors.

Learn more about this intervention here


  1. What is the name of the app for the Original Timer on your phone? Please share.

  2. It’s called Time Timer! 🙂

  3. I am interested in the sensory spot circular rugs/shapes. I hope they are rugs. Do you sale them?


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