Sensory Avoiding vs. Sensory Seeking Behaviors

Affiliate and Referral links are used below to promote products I love and recommend. I receive a commission on any purchases made through these links. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.

I am surrounded by sensory processing resources and education all the time. I tend to forget that others may not understand many of the terms related to sensory processing behaviors or sensory processing disorder. I recently saw a conversation on Facebook between some acquaintances that prompted me to address some common misconceptions when it comes to sensory processing. So today we are going to look at sensory avoiding vs. sensory seeking behaviors.

And did you know there is a third category for under-responsiveness to sensory input? Let's dive right in!

Sensory avoiding vs. sensory seeking behaviors in children.

Sensory Avoiding vs Sensory Seeking

There are a few terms we need to dissect before we can begin to understand what sensory avoiding or sensory seeking behaviors can look like. You will see these terms referred to in a few different ways depending on what book you read, so I am including all the common phrases to describe each.


You will see sensory avoiding referred to as a few different things: hyper-responsive, over-responsive or hypersensitivity.  Children with sensory avoiding behaviors are excessively responsive to sensory input. The slightest movement, touch, or sound could send you or a child into a negative behavior response. They will often avoid certain sensations, sounds, or environments because of this heightened awareness and response.


You will see sensory seeking referred to as hypo-responsive or hyposensitivity.  This means a child does not receive enough sensory input and is constantly looking for or “seeking” it to get to that “just-right” level of arousal. These behaviors can impact their day because they are not able to focus or attend to a task until they are at that just-right level.


There is a third category that can be overlooked and may seem similar to sensory avoiding, but it is very different. Children with an under-responsive sensory system exhibit a diminished response to sensory input. More sensory input is needed than average in order to get a response. They can look like they are “lazy” or “tired” and just don't pay attention to their surroundings.

Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators.

Common Misconceptions with Sensory Avoidings vs. Sensory Seeking

A common misconception is that if a child is a sensory avoider in a few areas of sensory processing that they will avoid all types of sensory input. This is simply not true. A child could avoid auditory or tactile input (sounds and touch) but could crave vestibular input (the sense of balance). And they could even avoid or crave different activities within the same sensory system.

What could this look like? You may have a child who can't stand tags on their clothing or the seems in their socks or shirts (part of the tactile system). But they may crave a tight fitting shirt or need to wear a weighted vest or a lycra body sock for different situations (this is tactile and proprioceptive input).

You may have a child who loves to spin or hang upside down but is afraid of heights (this is all part of the vestibular system).

A child may also have sensory seeking behaviors with one sensory system or avoiding behaviors or under-responsive behaviors with a different one. 

It important to address a child's sensory avoiding, sensory seeking, and under-responsive behaviors when we are looking at sensory processing. All three can play a part in helping them to learn strategies and self-regulation tools to get through their day.

I have a 9-day sensory processing email series that will give you a quick overview of each of the 8 sensory systems, including avoiding, seeking, and under-responsive behaviors. You can sign up for it below!

If you'd rather not sign up with an email address, I also have a blog post on addressing each of the eight sensory systems here.

And if you would like to learn all about sensory avoiding, sensory seeking, and under-responsive behaviors along with tips, tools, and strategies for parents and educators, I have co-authored a book with my good friend Sharla. Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators is your one-stop read for anything and everything related to sensory processing.

We address sensory vs. behavior (and how to tell the difference), sensory meltdowns vs. tantrums, and give you tips, tools, and strategies for addressing sensory needs in the home or classroom.


Follow Heather | Growing Hands-On Kids's board Sensory Processing Explained on Pinterest.
You May Also Like: 

Sensory Processing Overload Signs in the Classroom. Plus a free printable download of sensory overload signs.

Heather Greutman, COTA

Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with experience in school-based OT services for preschool through high school. She uses her background to share child development tips, tools, and strategies for parents, educators, and therapists. She is the author of many ebooks including The Basics of Fine Motor Skills, and Basics of Pre-Writing Skills, and co-author of Sensory Processing Explained: A Handbook for Parents and Educators.


  1. Paige DeLapa says:

    My 5 year old son can’t keep his hands to
    Himself and is rough with the kids in his
    Class. Is this sensory seeking or sensory
    Avoiding or just a bad behavior?

  2. My 5yo has SPD and I myself had it undiagnosed as a child (and still retain some symptoms). As such, it’s a subject I find touchy (erm…) and I want to thank you for some brilliant posts. I wish more OT’s were as informed as you around the world and though they try their best, I don’t think many are.

Comments are closed.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Heather Greutman is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant.
All information on the Website is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for medical advice from a physician or your pediatrician. Please consult with a medical professional if you suspect any medical or developmental issues with your child. The information on the Websites does not replace the relationship between therapist and client in a one-on-one treatment session with an individualized treatment plan based on their professional evaluation. The information provided on the Website is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied.

Do not rely on the information on the Website as an alternative to advice from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the Website. All medical information on the Website is for informational purposes only.

All activities outlined on the Website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. Growing Hands-On Kids is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog.

YOUR RESPONSIBILITY The Website was developed strictly for informational purposes. You understand and agree that you are fully responsible for your use of the information provided on the Website. Growing Hands-On Kids makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees. You understand that results may vary from person to person. Growing Hands-On Kids assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions that may appear on the Website.