Sensory-Based Interventions (SBIs) Improve Behavior

Occupational therapists use sensory-based interventions (SBIs) to improve the behavior of children, adolescents and adults with developmental and sensory processing challenges. SBIs are the guided use of sensory coping strategies and adaptive equipment to improve sensory modulation skills and behavior. Emerging evidence suggests that SBIs can significantly reduce distress and promote attention.


SBIs empower clients to actively substitute the sensory input provided through aggressive and self-injurious behavior with sensory coping strategies and adaptive equipment. However, SBI intervention needs to be goal-directed and specifically matched to the client’s needs and preferences. The use of SBIs has been included in the research supported Greenspan Floortime Approach for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Collaborative & Proactive Solutions Approach for children and adolescents with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and treatment models for reducing restraint and seclusion in pediatric and adult mental health facilities as well as schools OTPractSchoolOTRedAgg Reducing-Restraint-and-Seclusion 

Research indicates that Aerobic exercise, Sensory-Motor, Massage, and Mindfulness activities significantly improve behavior in individuals with developmental disabilities. Parent administered massage and sensory-motor activities significantly improved the communication skills of preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders showed significantly greater improvement given only parent massage dailif they had mild behavioral impairment, but both parent and therapist massage if they had severe behavioral impairment.

Environmental adaptations that reduced noise levels and visual distractions significantly improved attention in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Weighted vests significantly improved attention and learning in students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but did not in reduce repetitive non-purposeful behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Given the limited research on the efficacy of SBIs it is important to develop specific goals, gather baseline data, then individually introduce sensory coping strategies or adaptive equipment to determine their effectiveness. It can be useful to introduce SBIs as an experiment that will be continued if it helps the client reach their goals.

Integrating SBIs with behavioral intervention appears most effective for helping clients with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Deep pressure sensory interventions Roll therapy ball Core progression Strategy have been shown to reinforce the behaviors that follow them in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  SBIs can also be useful for preventing incidences of inappropriate behavior, or teaching replacement activities that decrease aggressive and self-injurious behavior. For children with Autism Spectrum Disorders it is helpful to provide sensory strategies before and after challenging activities, and to avoid accidentally providing sensory input as a reinforcement for inappropriate behavior.

SBIs have been found to significantly contribute to reducing client distress, restraints and seclusion in pediatric and adult mental health facilities. Adaptive equipment found to significantly reduce distress in individuals with mental health challenges includes sensory coping areas, weighted blankets, and environmental adaptations to reduce noise levels.


Sensory coping strategies including meaningful occupations, mindfulness, and exercise activities have enabled clients to decrease their distress and aggression. SBIs use individually guided, goal-directed sensory strategies and adaptive equipment to improve the behavior of children, adolescents and adults with developmental, mental health and sensory challenges.


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