sensory processing

Sensory Seeking vs. Sensory Defensive

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder Can Be Sensory Seekers or Defensive, or Both.

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder can be sensory seekers or defensive, or both. In the simplest of terms, children with SPD struggle with regulating their senses. In an effort to normalize what they are feeling, children will modify their play and actions depending on how much or how little sensory input they need. My three year old has displayed both seeking and defensive behaviors so I have tons of examples and advice for you.

Also check out my prior post: What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?


Seekers will seems as if they are “overdoing it” in their actions and play because their bodies aren’t receiving input. My son never sat still, his little body was always moving. In fact, it wasn’t until a friend of mine said “Is he always this busy?” that I realized this was not typical behavior. He was always crashing into furniture, rubbing his face on the carpet, and requesting to be held upside down.

For my son, Simon, he needed both vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (input of the muscles). Our Occupational Therapist showed us different activities that would satisfy his sensory needs to help calm and regulate his body.

Kinetic Sand – The weird sand that acts wet and dry is a great tool for seekers. It can be molded or poured through fingers and toes to provide a variety of stimuli.

Play-Doh or Theraputty – Both offer fun play while providing resistance to give those little fingers a workout.

obstacle course

Obstacle Course – Using pillows, cushions, tables and chairs, we created fun obstacle courses for him to run through, under, over, balance, and crash into. It was amazing after a few runs, he was a super chill toddler.

Snacks – Something as simple as snack time can provide input. Juicy strawberries or crunchy veggie sticks both provide work for their oral muscles, as well as concentration in the chewing/swallowing process.

bean rice bin

Rice/Bean Bins – We used wide plastic bins filled with rice or beans to play with and it’s unbelievable therapeutic. In fact, anytime I took out the bin, my hubbs would come sit with us too. Twirling your hands in the smooth textures is mesmerizing, but you can also incorporate measuring cups for scoops and hide toys to dig and discover.


When the world becomes overwhelming, SPD children will try to escape however they can. Simon was very orally defensive, as in, he wouldn’t eat anything other than a bottle. Even the sight of food would make him gag. He also tip toe walked which is a classic sign of defensiveness.

Our teachers showed us tons of ways to slowly build up his tolerance, and eventually his extreme defensive behaviors lessened.

finger paint

Finger Paint – Touching things that are wet and messy was a huge issue for my son. We always including something he loved, like Thomas the Train. We would paint pictures of Thomas and made Thomas drive through piles of paints to make tracks. Thomas even helped us paint our fingers and toes. Slowly introducing painting helped to desensitize Simon to this texture. The more textures he was okay with touching, the more food textures he was willing to hold and taste. Everything in our bodies is connected, so even though we worked on desensitizing his hands, it translated to his oral senses as well.

Shaving Cream, Sand, Anything Messy – see above.

Tunnels & Blanket Rolls – Simon had a serious issue being in closed spaces. Even being under a blanket caused a major level of anxiety for him. Once again, we slowly worked on desensitizing him to enclosed spaces, for very short periods of time. Using preferred toys, we asked him to crawl through a tunnel (or blanket fort) in order to play with the toy. We also used pretend play to wrap him in a blanket roll that we called “hot dog” and used different toys as silly toppings. Each time he was successful, we gave him lots of praise and would extend the period of play just a bit longer.

I hope some of these techniques help you and your child at home. I have over two years experience with intensive ABA therapies and I’m bursting with ideas. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share more sensory activity ideas. If you have any questions, I would love to help, so leave a comment below.

Recommended Reading: Raising A Sensory Smart Child

Previously posted at Hudson Valley Parent Magazine.

*If you have any concerns about your child, please discuss with their pediatrician or contact your local school district or Early Intervention center for an evaluation.*