Sensory Behaviors: Managing and Redirecting

Sometimes, we can become overwhelmed by these sensory experiences, and this can lead to sensory behaviors that can be challenging to manage. In this article, we'll explore some tips and strategies for managing and redirecting sensory behaviors in a friendly and approachable tone.

Ruben Kesherim
December 18, 2023

Sensory Behaviors: Managing and Redirecting

Understanding Sensory Behaviors in Autism

To effectively manage and support individuals with autism, it is essential to understand the sensory behaviors commonly associated with the condition. Sensory behaviors refer to the way individuals perceive and respond to sensory input from their environment. In autism, sensory behaviors can vary greatly from person to person.

What are Sensory Behaviors?

Sensory behaviors in autism are characterized by atypical responses to sensory stimuli, such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. These behaviors can manifest as both over-responsiveness and under-responsiveness to sensory input. It's important to note that individuals with autism may experience sensory behaviors in different ways and intensities.

Understanding sensory behaviors is crucial as they can significantly impact an individual's daily life, social interactions, and overall well-being. By recognizing and addressing these behaviors, parents can provide appropriate support and create a more sensory-friendly environment for their children.

Common Types of Sensory Behaviors in Autism

Sensory behaviors in autism can be broadly categorized into three main types: sensory overload, sensory seeking, and sensory avoidance.

  1. Sensory Overload: Sensory overload occurs when an individual becomes overwhelmed by excessive sensory input. This can lead to heightened sensitivity and emotional distress. Common signs of sensory overload may include covering ears, avoiding bright lights or loud noises, and becoming easily overwhelmed in crowded or stimulating environments.
  2. Sensory Seeking: Sensory seeking behaviors involve actively seeking out sensory input to regulate or stimulate their nervous system. This can include repetitive behaviors like spinning, rocking, or hand-flapping, as well as seeking certain textures, sounds, or movements. Understanding and redirecting sensory seeking behaviors is important to ensure individuals with autism can engage in more appropriate and functional activities.
  3. Sensory Avoidance: Sensory avoidance behaviors occur when individuals actively try to avoid or withdraw from certain sensory stimuli. This can involve covering eyes, ears, or nose, avoiding certain textures or tastes, or retreating from social interactions. Recognizing and supporting individuals with sensory avoidance behaviors can help create a more comfortable and inclusive environment.

By understanding the different types of sensory behaviors in autism, parents can better identify and address the specific needs of their child. Implementing appropriate strategies and interventions can help individuals with autism navigate their sensory experiences more effectively and lead to improved overall well-being.

boy using tablet computer

Sensory Processing Challenges

Individuals with autism often experience sensory processing challenges, which can affect their daily lives and behaviors. Understanding these challenges is crucial for parents in order to provide appropriate support and interventions. Here, we will explore three common sensory processing challenges in autism: sensory overload, sensory seeking, and sensory avoidance.

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload occurs when an individual is overwhelmed by the intensity, frequency, or complexity of sensory stimuli in their environment. This can lead to feelings of distress, anxiety, or even sensory meltdowns. Common triggers for sensory overload may include loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, or crowded spaces.

To help manage sensory overload, it is essential to create a sensory-friendly environment. This can involve reducing noise levels, providing access to quiet spaces, using dimmer lighting, and minimizing strong odors. Additionally, visual supports such as schedules or social stories can help individuals with autism anticipate and prepare for sensory experiences.

Sensory Seeking

Sensory seeking refers to behaviors in which individuals actively seek out sensory input to fulfill their sensory needs. This can manifest as repetitive behaviors such as rocking, spinning, or hand-flapping. Sensory seekers often enjoy intense sensory experiences and may seek out activities that provide deep pressure, vibration, or strong tactile sensations.

It is important to provide appropriate sensory input for individuals who engage in sensory seeking behaviors. This can include activities such as swinging, jumping on a trampoline, or using sensory tools like weighted blankets or fidget toys. Occupational therapists can offer valuable guidance and support in developing a sensory diet tailored to the individual's specific needs.

Sensory Avoidance

On the other hand, sensory avoidance refers to behaviors in which individuals actively avoid or withdraw from certain sensory stimuli. This can include avoiding crowded places, covering ears to block out loud sounds, or avoiding certain textures in food or clothing. Sensory avoidant behaviors can stem from sensitivity to specific sensory input.

To support individuals with sensory avoidance, it is important to respect their sensory preferences and provide accommodations that minimize discomfort. This can involve offering alternative options for sensory experiences, such as noise-canceling headphones or soft clothing. Occupational therapists can provide valuable strategies and techniques for individuals with sensory avoidant behaviors.

By understanding and addressing sensory processing challenges such as sensory overload, sensory seeking, and sensory avoidance, parents can help create a more supportive and inclusive environment for individuals with autism.

Working collaboratively with professionals, such as occupational therapists and autism specialists, can provide further guidance and support. Additionally, joining parent support groups can offer valuable insights and a sense of community. Together, we can advocate for sensory inclusion and promote understanding of sensory behaviors in autism.

Strategies for Managing Sensory Behaviors

Managing sensory behaviors in individuals with autism requires effective strategies that can help create a supportive and comfortable environment. By implementing techniques tailored to their specific needs, parents can better support their children. Here are three key strategies for managing sensory behaviors in individuals with autism.

Creating a Sensory-Friendly Environment

Creating a sensory-friendly environment is crucial in managing sensory behaviors. This involves ensuring that the individual's surroundings are conducive to their sensory needs. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Lighting: Use natural and soft lighting whenever possible to minimize harsh fluorescent lights that can be overwhelming for individuals with autism.
  • Noise Level: Reduce unnecessary noise by using sound-absorbing materials or noise-cancelling headphones to create a quieter environment.
  • Visual Clutter: Minimize visual clutter by organizing and simplifying the physical space. Clearing excessive visual stimuli can help reduce sensory overload.
  • Comfortable Spaces: Designate quiet and calm spaces where the individual can retreat to when feeling overwhelmed. These spaces should include sensory-friendly items like bean bags, weighted blankets, or fidget toys.

By carefully curating the environment, parents can create a safe and comfortable space that supports sensory regulation and reduces sensory challenges.

Sensory Diet and Sensory Integration Therapy

A sensory diet involves incorporating sensory activities and exercises into daily routines to help individuals with autism regulate their sensory experiences. Sensory integration therapy is a type of occupational therapy that focuses on improving sensory processing and integration. Here are some key elements of sensory diet and sensory integration therapy:

  • Sensory Activities: Engage in activities that address specific sensory needs, such as deep pressure exercises, swinging, jumping, or tactile play. These activities can help individuals regulate their sensory input and improve their overall sensory processing abilities.
  • Structured Routine: Establish a structured routine that includes specific sensory activities throughout the day. Consistency and predictability can provide a sense of security and help manage sensory sensitivities.
  • Professional Guidance: Consult with occupational therapists who specialize in sensory integration to develop a personalized sensory diet and receive guidance on effective sensory integration strategies. They can provide tailored recommendations based on the individual's unique sensory profile and needs.

Sensory diet and sensory integration therapy can be valuable tools in managing sensory behaviors and promoting self-regulation in individuals with autism.

Visual Supports and Social Stories

Visual supports and social stories are effective tools for individuals with autism to understand and navigate social situations, routines, and expectations. These visual tools provide clear and concise information, which can reduce anxiety and support communication. Here are some ways to utilize visual supports and social stories:

  • Visual Schedules: Create visual schedules or calendars that outline daily activities and routines. Visual schedules provide predictability and help individuals understand what to expect, reducing anxiety and sensory overload.
  • Visual Cues: Use visual cues, such as pictures, symbols, or icons, to communicate expectations or steps involved in different tasks or activities. Visual cues can enhance understanding and provide a visual reference for individuals who struggle with verbal communication or processing information.
  • Social Stories: Develop social stories that explain social situations, sensory experiences, or transitions. Social stories use simple language and visuals to help individuals understand unfamiliar or challenging situations and how to navigate them successfully.

By incorporating visual supports and social stories into daily life, parents can provide valuable guidance and support to individuals with autism, helping them manage sensory behaviors effectively.

Understanding and implementing these strategies can significantly contribute to managing sensory behaviors in individuals with autism. It is important to remember that each individual is unique, so it may take time and experimentation to identify the most effective strategies.

Consulting with professionals, such as occupational therapists or autism specialists, can provide additional guidance and support. By advocating for sensory inclusion and implementing these strategies, parents can help create an environment that promotes sensory regulation and enhances the overall well-being of individuals with autism.

Practical Tips for Parents

As a parent of a child with autism, understanding and managing sensory behaviors can greatly improve their daily life. Here are some practical tips to help you navigate sensory challenges and support your child:

Recognizing Triggers and Patterns

Observing and identifying triggers and patterns associated with your child's sensory behaviors is crucial. Pay attention to the situations, environments, or specific sensory stimuli that seem to lead to sensory overload or discomfort. By recognizing these triggers, you can proactively plan and make adjustments to minimize their impact.

Providing Sensory Breaks

Sensory breaks are an effective way to allow your child to self-regulate and find relief from sensory overload. Designate a quiet and calm space where your child can retreat when they feel overwhelmed. This area should be free from excessive noise, bright lights, and other sensory stimuli that may contribute to their distress. Encourage your child to take regular breaks in this space to recharge and regain their composure.

Using Calming Techniques and Tools

Calming techniques and tools can provide comfort and help your child manage sensory distress. Experiment with various techniques to find what works best for your child. Some common techniques include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness activities. Additionally, sensory tools such as weighted blankets, fidget toys, or noise-canceling headphones can provide a sense of security and reduce anxiety in overwhelming situations. Keep in mind that each child is unique, so it may take some trial and error to find the most effective techniques and tools for your child's needs.

Remember, supporting your child with sensory behaviors requires patience, understanding, and flexibility. Seek guidance from professionals such as occupational therapists who specialize in sensory processing. They can provide tailored strategies and recommendations based on your child's specific sensory challenges.

Joining parent support groups can also be beneficial, as it allows you to connect with other parents who share similar experiences and challenges. These groups provide a space for sharing insights, seeking advice, and finding emotional support. Together, you can navigate the journey of parenting a child with autism and learn from one another.

By recognizing triggers, providing sensory breaks, and implementing calming techniques and tools, you can help your child navigate sensory challenges and create a more comfortable and supportive environment for them. Advocating for sensory inclusion and educating others about sensory behaviors can also contribute to a more inclusive society for individuals with autism.

Collaborating with Professionals

When it comes to managing sensory behaviors in autism, collaborating with professionals can provide valuable insights and support for parents. Seeking guidance from occupational therapists, autism specialists, and joining parent support groups can help parents navigate the challenges associated with sensory behaviors.

Consulting with Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists play a crucial role in supporting individuals with autism and their families. They specialize in helping individuals develop and improve their ability to perform daily activities and tasks. When it comes to sensory behaviors, occupational therapists can assess the specific sensory challenges a child may be facing and develop personalized strategies to address them.

Through sensory evaluations and interventions, occupational therapists can help parents understand their child's sensory profile and provide recommendations for sensory integration therapy. They can guide parents on creating sensory-friendly environments, implementing sensory diets, and using visual supports to promote sensory regulation. Consulting with an occupational therapist can be instrumental in developing effective strategies tailored to the unique needs of the child.

Seeking Support from Autism Specialists

Autism specialists, such as developmental pediatricians or child psychologists with expertise in autism, can provide specialized guidance and support for managing sensory behaviors. These professionals have a deep understanding of the sensory challenges associated with autism and can offer evidence-based strategies to help parents navigate these behaviors effectively.

By seeking support from autism specialists, parents can gain a better understanding of the underlying factors contributing to sensory behaviors and receive recommendations for appropriate interventions. These specialists can provide comprehensive assessments, diagnose autism if necessary, and offer guidance on managing sensory overload, sensory seeking, and sensory avoidance behaviors. They can also direct parents to additional resources and therapies that may be beneficial for their child.

Joining Parent Support Groups

Connecting with other parents who are going through similar experiences can provide immense support and reassurance. Parent support groups offer a safe space for parents to share their concerns, seek advice, and exchange practical tips for managing sensory behaviors in autism.

Joining a parent support group allows parents to connect with others who understand the unique challenges faced by families affected by autism. These groups provide opportunities to learn from one another's experiences, share successful strategies, and discuss common concerns. It can be comforting to know that you are not alone in your journey and that there are others who can offer support and guidance.

By collaborating with professionals and joining parent support groups, parents can access a wealth of knowledge and support to help manage sensory behaviors in autism. They can gain insights into effective strategies, share experiences, and find reassurance in a community that understands the unique challenges they face. Remember to always consult professionals for personalized advice and support tailored to your child's specific needs.

Advocating for Sensory Inclusion

Advocating for sensory inclusion is crucial to creating a more understanding and supportive society for individuals with autism. By educating others about sensory behaviors, promoting sensory-friendly practices, and building inclusive communities, we can foster an environment where individuals with autism can thrive.

Educating Others about Sensory Behaviors

One of the most impactful ways to advocate for sensory inclusion is by educating others about sensory behaviors in autism. Many people may not be familiar with the unique sensory challenges individuals with autism face. By raising awareness and providing information, we can help others understand why certain behaviors may occur and how they can support individuals with autism.

When educating others, it can be helpful to share resources, such as articles or videos, that explain sensory behaviors in a clear and concise manner. By providing accurate information, we can dispel misconceptions and promote a more empathetic understanding of sensory experiences.

Promoting Sensory-Friendly Practices

Another important aspect of advocating for sensory inclusion is promoting sensory-friendly practices in various settings. This can include advocating for accommodations in schools, workplaces, and public spaces to ensure that the sensory needs of individuals with autism are met.

Promoting sensory-friendly practices can involve advocating for the use of sensory tools and strategies, such as providing quiet spaces or allowing the use of sensory aids like headphones or fidget toys. By working with institutions and organizations, we can encourage the adoption of sensory-friendly policies and practices that create a more inclusive environment for individuals with autism.

Building Inclusive Communities

Building inclusive communities is a fundamental aspect of advocating for sensory inclusion. This involves creating spaces where individuals with autism and their families feel welcomed and supported. Inclusive communities are ones that embrace diversity, provide resources for sensory accommodations, and foster a sense of belonging for everyone.

To build inclusive communities, it can be helpful to connect with local autism support groups and organizations. By collaborating and sharing experiences, parents can come together to raise awareness, organize events, and create opportunities for community engagement. Joining parent support groups can provide valuable support and resources for navigating the journey of raising a child with autism.

By advocating for sensory inclusion, we can make a positive impact on the lives of individuals with autism and their families. Educating others about sensory behaviors, promoting sensory-friendly practices, and building inclusive communities are essential steps towards creating a more understanding and supportive society. Together, we can work towards a world where individuals with autism can fully participate and flourish.


Managing and redirecting sensory behaviors can be challenging, but with patience and understanding, it's possible to develop effective strategies. By creating a sensory-friendly environment, providing sensory input, offering choices, using positive reinforcement, providing distractions, and using visual cues, we can help individuals to manage their sensory behaviors in a positive and supportive way.


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