Behavioral & Sensory Strategies for Young Students

Theraband chairarm rotation

Integrated sensory processing and behavioral strategies improve the behavior of pre-school and kindergarten students. Combining Positive Behavioral Support and sensory processing adaptive equipment and techniques can help regular and special education students behave better, pay attention, and learn. A helpful initial resource for pre-school and kindergarten teachers is www.pbisworld.com which suggests behavioral strategies and classroom adaptations.


The PBIS World website helps pre-school and kindergarten teachers identify the most problematic student behaviors. PBIS World then provides a menu of appropriate Tier 1 regular classroom, Tier 2 small group, and Tier 3 individual interventions to choose from for improving behavior. Free data tracking forms are also provided for monitoring the effectiveness of the selected behavioral interventions.


Special education teachers as well as occupational, speech-language, or mental health therapists can assist teachers in identifying the best Tier 1 interventions for a specific student, and can assist the teacher by providing Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions within and outside the classroom. It is important for team members to provide consistency between Tier 1, 2, and 3 interventions so students are not confused by varied rules and procedures.  Tier 1 Preschool and Kindergarten classroom interventions combining sensory processing and positive behavioral support are suggested using the FAB Strategies Form.


While some special education faculty, behaviorists, pediatricians, and occupational therapists object to combining behavioral and sensory strategies it makes sense to combine these clinically proven interventions before using medications.


FAB Turtle Teaches Self-Control

The FAB Turtle Technique is a practical evidence-based method of teaching self-control to pre-school and kindergarten students. The turtle technique is a component of the PATHS positive behavioral support program using classroom routines, rewards, stories, puppets, crafts, and activities. The turtle technique is based on Tucker Turtle, who learns to control his aggression when he feels angry so he doesn’t upset his friends. Preschool and kindergarten teachers around the world use this technique to promote self-control, with free resources available at http://www.challengingbehavior.org/do/resources/teaching_tools/ttyc_toc.htm#turtle .

In addition to its usefulness with typical preschool and kindergarten students, the turtle technique can be modified to teach self-control to pre-school through fifth grade students with special needs (e.g., emotional, trauma history, developmental, and/or sensory processing challenges). Free resources for students with special needs are offered using the FAB Turtle Strategy.

FAB Turtle Technique

The FAB turtle strategy modifies the turtle technique as: 1) Stop immediately after noticing your environmental and body triggers 2) Go to the classroom sensory calming area 3) Do your individualized coping strategies in the sensory calming area 4) When you are sure you will not act aggressively return to your seat 5) Later the teacher will guide you in problem solving and reward you for doing the turtle strategy to avoid aggression.

The FAB turtle strategy modifies the turtle technique going into your shell by putting your shirt over your head when angry to going to the sensory calming area (e.g., designated area in the back of the classroom that other students can not enter). The turtle technique 3 deep breaths to calm down are substituted with the student’s individualized coping strategy (e.g., pushups, mindfulness activities). Emphasis is placed on the student not leaving the sensory calming area until they are certain they won’t act aggressively, and delaying as long as necessary before problem solving as students with special needs may need longer periods of time to calm down. While the student might need to be reminded of the initial conflict, this additional time provides the calmness needed for problem solving.

The FAB turtle strategy individualizes the turtle technique for students with special needs by building on the original turtle technique curriculum and resources.



TurtlePuppetPATHS Conference 2014

The FAB turtle strategy can be used to individualize the turtle technique for children with special needs in inclusive classrooms. Teachers can also begin by using the FAB turtle strategy for students with special needs, then transition them to the turtle technique and other positive behavioral support strategies.

Domitrovich, C. E., Cortes, R. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (2007). Improving young children’s social and emotional competence: A randomized trial of the preschool “PATHS” curriculum. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 28(2), 67-91.
Pagano, J. L. (2005). Functionally approached body strategies for young children who have behavioral and sensory processing challenges. Available online at http://www.eric.ed.gov search by ERIC # ED490718 http://eric.ed.gov/?q=John+Pagano+2005&id=ED490718
Riggs, N.R., Greenberg, M.T., Kusche, C.A., Pentz, M.A. (2006). The mediational role of neurocognition in the behavioral outcomes of a social-emotional prevention program in elementary school students: Effects of the PATHS curriculum. Prevention Science, 7(1), 91-102.