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Q&A: What to Do for an Overactive Student?


I work with an overactive student who has definite sensory needs in the classroom. He is in a typical first-grade class. The teacher filled out the Sensory Systems Checklist, and he is typically under-responsive. He is always touching others. and has difficulty with fine motor tasks. In addition, he loves jumping, wrestling, and tight hugs. He is in constant motion, says “what” frequently, and doesn’t consistently respond to his name. There are no issues with taste and smell. Do you have any hints for setting up a sensory diet for this child? This is new for me, and any ideas would be very helpful. Thanks so much.


Since this student is an overall UNDER-responder who loves to move, you should treat him as a sensory seeker. This is one form of under-responsiveness. I call the other form passive under-responsiveness. This can be confusing! Since sensory seekers are in constant motion, our tendency is to want to calm them down (using red-arrow activities if you have the BrainWorks system). But what we actually want to do is to periodically give them really intense alerting activities (the green-arrow activities) to help them reach the high threshold level for sensory input put these kids have. This is the same reason we give Ritalin, which is a STIMULANT, to kids with ADHD. They need a higher level of stimulation to satisfy their brain. My sensory diet for this kid would look like this:

1. Make sure he gets a 10–20 minute, intense movement break at least every 2 hours. Recess can count and gym can typically count as one of these movement breaks as well. In addition to recess and gym, here are a few more options for these movement breaks:

  • His teacher could do a whole class movement activity like yoga, action songs, classroom exercise time, Brain Gym activities, etc. This is my first choice because it allows him to stay a part of the class and ALL kids will benefit from this type of movement activity each day. Check the research section of my website to support this.
  • Child could be allowed to have “Job Time.” This could be moving books in the library, as you mentioned. Make it more intense by having him wear ankle and wrist weights or a weighted vest while working. Be sure he bends down and reaches up high a lot, too. Pushing a heavy cart to collect returned books from the classroom would work well, too.
  • This child could be allowed to have a movement break each day in the special ed room or another area of the school where he could be supervised on activities such as prone over a therapy ball, jumping on a mini-trampoline or jumping off to crash into a beanbag, doing wheelbarrow walking, or other animal walks, etc.

2. In between movement breaks, allow him to keep the momentum going by using yellow arrow BrainWorks activities. These are just-right activities that improve focus. Replacing his chair with a therapy ball or adding a Move ‘n Sit Disc to his chair would be very beneficial. Many other activities can be done while doing seatwork. Examples include chewing gum, playing with fidget toys, or pushing and pulling against a piece of Theraband tied between the legs of his desk. He can also give himself deep pressure input by pressing his hands together or pushing down on the top of his head with clasped hands.

3. If you are using BrainWorks, create a visual sensory diet tool for him by printing out the yellow arrow activity cards that he can use to keep himself on task while in the classroom. Laminate the cards and put them on a keyring. This is a good reminder tool to help him learn to modulate. Another resource for this child’s parent and teacher is the “Sensory Seeker Strategy Summary” form, which explains the overall strategy for addressing his needs. You may find this form in the “Strategy Summary Forms” sections of the BrainWorks Members Area.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Best Wishes,