Combining sensory processing and behavioral strategies is useful for students with complex behavior, developmental and sensory processing challenges. Integrating sensory processing and behavioral strategies is underutilized because of the theoretical rigidity of many behavioral and occupational therapists. However, I was lucky enough to work with a behavioral therapist who respected occupational therapists, and by working together we helped improve student behavior more easily than either of us could have working alone.
An effective strategy for helping students who engage in repetitive behavior that interferes with their functioning or is self-injurious is the FAB Sensory Match Strategy. The FAB Sensory Match Strategy combines offering specific sensory input and reinforcement for decreasing the repetitive behavior. The specific sensory input is developed by first considering the sensory function provided by the repetitive behavior. If a child repeatedly bangs his hand on a desk, I go where no one will see me and do the behavior myself, considering the sensory input it provides. Sensory processing knowledge helps in finding activities that will meet the child’s sensory needs so they don’t have to continue engaging in repetitive self-injurious behavior.
Considering the child’s class setting, favorite activities, developmental level, and Sensory Profile I find several activities the student enjoys that provide the sensory input he’s seeking in a more appropriate way (e.g., hand drumming, pounding playdoh). Finally, the behavioral therapist helps me determine how often the child bangs his hand on the desk and the most effective reinforcement strategies.
The child is then offered the sensory activities to do whenever he chooses and is reinforced for going progressively longer periods with out banging his hand on the desk. Behavioral therapists are trained in gathering and analyzing data to find the best reinforcement and the schedule for using it. Occupational therapists are taught to use the Sensory Profile and a task analysis to find appropriate activities that provide the sensory input the child is getting from the repetitive behavior. The behavioral therapist and I would assess the data on the child’s progress to determine if the reinforcement, schedule for providing it, or sensory activities needed to be adjusted. By combining their forces behavioral and occupational therapists can integrate behavioral and sensory processing strategies to improve student’s behavior and learning.
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Mays, N.M., Beal-Alvarez, J., Jolivette, K. (2011). Using movement-based sensory interventions to address self-stimulatory behaviors in students with Autism. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43(6), 46-52.
Rapp, T.R. (2006). Toward an empirical method for identifying matched stimulation for automatically reinforced behavior: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 39, 137-140.