How Does Sensory Modulation Impact Impulsivity | The OT Toolbox

How Does Sensory Modulation Impact Impulsivity

A child jumps up from his seat in the middle of a classroom assignment. again.  

A student acts out as he tries to make his classmates laugh.  A play date friend hits and kicks other kids during play.  A peer grabs toys from her friends hands.  A child interrupts his mom while she's on an important call with the pediatrician.

All of these situations are signs of impulsiveness.  They are developmental stages that children go through as they grow in their social and emotional abilities.  But sometimes, this developmental stage gets "stuck" and the impulsiveness just doesn't stop despite working on impulsivity with the child. The ability to self-monitor one's actions, or impulse control, has underlying reasons for the behaviors you see in the classroom or play dates.

Many times, impulsive actions are a brain-based result of modulation. 

Sensory modulation and it's impact on impulsivity in kids

What is modulation?

Modulation is the ability to adapt or respond to circumstances.  On a cellular basis in the brain, modulation refers to responses to neural activity that occurs as a result of sensory input being processed and interpreted by peripheral and neuronal cells in the central nervous system. 

Modulation of sensory input is a crucial ability of our brain and body.  The ability to filter out sensations and attend to the important information allows us to maintain an optimal level of arousal. 

When we attend to the important information, modulation occurs.  If that ability to modulate information is inadequate, our attention is distributed among all of the many changes of sensation bombarding our systems from the environment.  
What is modulation and how does it impact impulsivity

Modulation and Impulsivity: What we see

Because the ability to receive and detect (or process) sensory information occurs at the neurological level, we can only infer what is happening based on outward behaviors.  These observable performance occurs as sensory information is then integrated.  

You might like to check out our free printable sheets related to Impulse Control. Click the yellow button to get your free printables. 

Behaviorally, modulation is reflected by how we respond or don't respond to our environment. Responses are typically seen as sensory-seeking or sensory avoiding.  Poor responses can also be expressed as distractibility, attention level, disorganization, anxiety, and impulsivity.

So, it might just be that the child who can't control their impulse to have the last word is also hypersensitive to sensory input.  The child who can't stand in their place in line and needs to shove and push may be also be hyposensitive to sensory input.  The underlying reasons might not be obvious, but they are there.

Sensory modulation impacts impulsivity in kids

Get Free printable sheets related to Impulse Control.

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to help kids understand and get impulses under control.