If I told you that this afternoon you had to go fly a commercial airplane to Europe (but you’re a teacher, accountant, or stay at home mom…) how would you likely feel? Maybe that all of a sudden you’re feeling “sick” or possibly even scheme an “accident” that somehow deems you unable to partake in the task? When we as adults feel overwhelmed or don’t know the proper steps to complete a task- we avoid - so do our kids!

The question is not is it sensory versus behavioral, but instead what task in the current or past is evoking this secondary emotional reaction from the child? The brain is dynamic; constantly growing and learning based on every event we experience. When a potentially difficult situation arises, we have to adapt to create the appropriate output to meet the demands required of the task. If the task is too hard, we “shut down.” Over time, this becomes our “typical” response to the task, especially once we learn strategies that quickly and easily remove the stress of the event (I.E. screaming, crying, hitting, biting…).

Thus, where learned “behavioral” responses arise. Enter the buzzword, “behavioral.” These “behavioral outbursts” are truly red flags for a sensory concern that may be misinterpreted for a task being too hard for your child or may be a response your child has created over time based on a past difficult event. If we believe the child has an emotional or behavioral problem, as adults we naturally try to control and “fix” the child. But, if you believe your child is having behavioral outbursts, there may be an underlying sensory concern that is evokingthis response. Something as simple as a sock seam being twisted, the car radio being too loud, or the intense florescent lights of Wal-Mart can be an initial trigger of a “stress response.”

We can help!

“If we believe the child is having a stress response because they cannot manage the task we will teach the skills in a manner that respects the child readiness for the task.” Marsha Klein Dunn (2010) Once the initial trigger is identified with the aid of one of our speech language pathologists, physical therapists or occupational therapists, steps will be taken to teach and slowly coach your child away from the current inefficient “behavioral” stress responses into more appropriate and functional actions.


Dunn Klein, M., & Evans Morris, S. (2000). Pre-Feeding Skills (2 ed.). San Antonio, TX:

The Psychological Corporation.

Toomey, K. A. & Sundseth, Ross, E. (2011). SOS Approach To Feeding.

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