Self-Regulation and Sensory? What is the Link? Part I

Self regulation involves monitoring and controlling one’s own feelings, emotions and behavior. It necessitates the ability to block out irrelevant stimuli, control impulses and persist in tasks. Sensory processing is foundational. It is the ability to take in cues from within our body and from the environment; process them accurately and prioritize what to focus on in order to perform daily activities.

Sensory Modulation Disorder (SMD) and Its Effects on Self Regulation
Sensory modulation disorder (SMD) refers to difficulty regulating responses to sensory stimulation. This is due to an underlying sensory processing disorder. Three subtypes have been proposed: sensory over-responsive, in which the child responds too much, for too long, or shows a strong response to stimuli of weak intensity; sensory under-responsive, in which the child responds too little, or needs extremely strong stimulation to become aware of the stimulus; and sensory seeking/craving, where the child responds with intense searching for more or stronger stimulation (Miller, Nielsen, Schoen, & Brett-Green, 2009).

The ability to regulate and control your feelings, emotions and behaviors as well as your ability to attend and focus are often related to difficulties modulating sensory information. This link is both behaviorally and physiologically.

When a child is well regulated, he adapts to changes in the environment, has a level of arousal and attention appropriate to the task, blocks out irrelevant information, attends to relevant information, and responds appropriately in direct proportion to the input. Behaviorally, sensory modulation thus refers to the observable ability of a child to produce “responses that match the demands and expectations of the environment” (Lane, 2002)

Intervention to Aid Sensory Modulation and Self Regulation
Help for a child with an SMD involves several considerations and types of intervention. Engineering the environment is an easy start. For the over-responsive child and sensory seeking/craving, you want  to decrease clutter and minimize noise and other distractions can promote attention to salient components within the physical setting and activity (Murray-Slutsky & Paris, 2005, 2014), decrease a child’s stress and anxiety and promote better internal sensory modulation and self regulation.

Part II-Next Newsletter
Carolyn Murray-Slutsky, MS OTR, C/NDT
and Betty Paris, PT, M.Ed., C/NDT


Lane, S. J. (2002). Sensory Modulation. In A. C. Bundy, S. J. Lane, & E. A. Murray (Eds.), Sensory Integration Theory and Practice (Vol. 2nd, pp. 101-122). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company. (Reprinted from: IN FILE).
Miller, L. J., Nielsen, D. M., Schoen, S. A., & Brett-Green, B. (2009). Perspectives on sensory processing disorder: a call for translational research. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 3(22), 1-12.
Murray-Slutsky, C., & Paris, B. (2005). Is it Sensory or is it Behavior? Austin, Texas: Hammill Institute on Disabilities.
Murray-Slutsky, C., & Paris, B. (2014). Autism Interventions;  Exploring the Spectrum of Autism (2nd). Austin, Texas: Hammill Institute on Disabilities.