Is it sensory or is it behavior: Traditional and non-traditional treatments

by Cammy Sherman, COTA



I recently took a course designed to give practitioners strategies for differentiating and addressing sensory and non-sensory behaviors in children with special needs. I was especially looking forward to this course due to the number of sensory issues many of my students display. It is often difficult for therapists and teachers to determine what is truly sensory versus what is solely a behavior.


I was surprised when looking over the course outline that it mainly consisted of an overview of diagnoses that affect behavior. The three that were highlighted were Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ADHD. All three come with unique challenges and behaviors. In this post I will highlight Autism Spectrum Disorder and traditional versus non-traditional methods of treatment.


Autism can present with social challenges, difficulties communicating, repetitive behaviors, and sensory processing problems. Traditional strategies that can affect behavior in children with Autism are:

  • Early Intervention
  • ABA therapy with a focus on communication, social skills, play, and academic skills.
  • Structured programming for at least 25 hours per week
  • Sensory integration with a focus on deep proprioceptive and predictable rhythmic vestibular input.
  • Visual supports, including visual schedules and picture exchange systems.


In recent years, alternative strategies for Autism have become more popular; three strategies that were mentioned, were: the use of essential oils, Bach Flower remedies, and biomedical therapies.


I found the use of essential oils the most interesting; they have been around for thousands of years and have been used for a variety of medicinal and health purposes. Oils are distilled and extracted from different parts of the plants, including: flowers, leaves, bark, roots, resins, and peels. Some of the benefits of essential oils are their anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. The best benefit is that they are most often used without any side effects.


Essential oils have been used for children with Autism to reduce anxiety and stress as well as balance emotions. Lavender based oil has been able to help improve sleep patterns, while peppermint and lemon are more stimulating and have been used to aid digestion. In the school setting where I practice it is not uncommon to smell wafts of lavender while walking down the hallway,  as so many teachers have begun to implement the use of essential oil diffusers in their classrooms. Parent’s are even catching on to this non-traditional trend, as some have even sent them in to be used with their student. I love to use of oils in school based practice because they are simple, natural, and can be relatively inexpensive.