By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

If you know a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, you probably know what sensory dysregulation looks like, you just might not realize it. Keep reading to learn more about how to spot a dysregulated child and how to support them.

What do these two children have in common?


They’re both experiencing sensory dysregulation.


As an Occupational Therapist, I educate parents and other educators on how sensory processing challenges can impact learning and behavior. I teach tools and strategies on how to help regulate a child. But in order to teach regulation strategies, we first must recognize and be able to identify dysregulation. 

What is Sensory Dysregulation?

Sensory dysregulation is when your central nervous system (your brain) is imbalanced due to an excess of sensory input, or not enough sensory input.


For example, my daughter has a low threshold for most sensory input, which means she is hypersensitive to sensory input (read about her tactile sensitivity here). Anytime she perceives too much sound or messy input, she often has a melt down and becomes dysregulated. Our most recent daily battles have related to her clothing sensory issues, particularly with socks. 


Children who have a high threshold for sensory input can also show signs of dysregulation, but it might look different. For example, some kids can’t get enough movement. They need more and more. These movement seekers may run and run, but instead of becoming calmer and more regulated, you notice: shrieking, drooling, and extremely fast and unsafe movements. That child is dysregulated.


Children can experience dysregulation after an accumulation of sensory triggers earlier in the day, or even days before. For example, right around Christmas vacation or during the end of the year excitement, my daughter will have meltdown after meltdown. It’s usually not about anything particular, but her nervous system is just shot and maxed out from trying to process and regulate with all the different changes and out of the ordinary routine.

What are Some Signs of Dysregulation?

Dysregulation is a state, anyone at anytime can experience moments of dysregulation, though children who hare neurodivergent are more prone to dysregulation.


Below are some signs of dysregulation (this is not an exhaustive list). Each child is different and may exhibit different signs than the ones below.

Picture of 2 boys, one looking overwhelmmed, one looking hyperactive with symptoms of sensory dysregulation written.

What Do I Do If My Child Is Dysregulated?

While triggers for dysregulation can often vary and look different depending on what sensory profile the child has, there are some common attributes of a calming, regulating environment that can help.


I would highly recommend creating a go-to sensory corner in your house with your child’s favorite sensory tools. Click here to see my amazon store favorite finds to add to a calming sensory corner (contains affiliate links) 

Looking for more support to understand your child’s sensory dysregulation and how to support them? Wok with me! I offer 1:1 OT consults for parents.

EXPLORE A RELATED CATEGORY:

Sensory Processing

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MEET THE AUTHOR

Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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