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Q&A: Criteria for Exiting Sensory Breaks or Tools for Intervention?


One of our building teams that is participating in the PPSC (PBIS) grant is working on defining their Tier 2 supports. They are listing sensory breaks or sensory tools as Tier 2 intervention. Within the system, they are working to define:

  • Criteria used to determine which students should get sensory break/tools intervention
  • Data to track students’ progress, and
  • Criteria that would determine when students can appropriately exit this support/intervention.

What criteria would you typically recommend to determine that a student no longer needs a sensory break or sensory tools.


That’s a tough question! My initial thought is that ALL kids really need sensory breaks. Integrating movement into the classrooms may alleviate the need for Tier 2 intervention for most kids. But if that is already happening, and some kids need more than what the general education classroom is getting, here would be my suggestions:  Criteria to determine need for sensory support:

  • For kids having difficulty with staying on task, you may want to have teachers fill out the sensory symptoms checklist. If it indicates kids are seeking vestibular or proprioceptive input, movement breaks would be indicated.
  • If the checklist indicates over-responsiveness to auditory, visual,or tactile, sensory tools such as noise-reduction headphones, etc. may be indicated.
  • Progress tracking . . . Ideally, you would use data-tracking forms for on-task behavior or in-seat behavior, but it depends on how in-depth data-tracking will apply to Tier 2 intervention. It could also just be as simple as a teacher’s assessment of whether the supports help or not. In general, if the teacher feels the supports are beneficial, they are.
  • Exiting the support is also tricky. For the most part, we don’t outgrow our sensory needs. So if a child needs more movement or sensory strategies than what his educational environment provides, he may always need those supports. Sensory breaks or tools are not really a “fix.” We don’t typically see progress from them, like we would see from a curriculum to improve math skills, which brings me to my next point.
  • If you are going for a “fix” rather than a support that may be needed forever, I would recommend a program to teach self-modulation like BrainWorks or Zones of Regulation. Maybe the kids who qualify would go to a group weekly to learn strategies they can use independently in the classroom. This would still be somewhat dependent on the teacher’s willingness to allow kids the flexibility to manage their needs in the classroom, such as standing up to work, straddling their chairs, taking stretch breaks, etc. This makes exit criteria easier. A good criteria might be “Student can identify his/her needs and select strategies to meet them.”

I hope that helps!

Best Wishes,