Headstart for Life

Active or Hyperactive Child


Dashing off on the street; bouncing on the bed; climbing up the furniture, these all looked like elements of typical children’s play. However, the look of concern on the parents’ faces showed that they have difficulty managing such situations. They are concerned that their children engages in such activities for substantially longer periods of time than expected. As a result, the child has difficulty settling down for proper activities such as a meal or bath. In addition, there is a fear that these children somehow do not seem to mind the danger and continue to engage in reckless activities. Over the years, parents have come to understand the term “sensory”, and they are wondering how it impacts on their children. In this article, I will be exploring hyperactive using the framework of sensory integration.


Photo credit: https://mshiyanga.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/things-you-do-for-love/


Hyperactivity behaviours are a hallmark of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). It can also present in children with differential diagnosis like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down syndrome and other disorders (Holland 2016). However, parents should not assume that their children have a “disorder” because their children are hyperactive. To analyse whether it is active or hyperactive, we would need to consider the context of culture. In the United States, at least 9 percent of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. In contrast, the percentage of French kids diagnosed with ADHD is less than 0.5 percent (Wedge 2013). How has the epidemic of ADHD—firmly established in the U.S.—almost completely passed over children in France?  Researchers explained that French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain, but in the child’s social context. Similarly, in the Singapore context, it is understandable that children tend to spend more time in the enrichment classes that they miss the outdoor activities. As a result, they release their energy at home by jumping and climbing.

Sensory Integration

Sensory integration is a scientific framework developed by Dr Jean Ayres. In this theory, it is proposed that our sensations and reactions to sensations determine our movement and thoughts, creating the adaptive responses (SIGN 2017). Dr Ayres established that we have different systems to monitor our responses to touch, movement and strength. The responses to these sensations can be over response or under response. In the example of hyperactive, it is possible that the children do not get dizzy while being spun. The system to detect the movement sensation is under responding. Since body is working as a whole, the other systems like the visual, touch and muscles system would be compromised too.


As an occupational therapist, I am advocating for both behavioural and sensory approaches. During the therapy, the child will receive the various sensations through movement. Movement can increase attention (Centre for Development 2017). Parents are recommended to provide the sensory activities at home. There are few principles of the sensory activities.

  1. If a sensory tool is helpful, it is used.  If it becomes a distraction, they don’t need it.
  2. Every child’s sensory system is different.
  3. Sensory activities should not be used as a reward. Sensory tools/strategies are for “now”, NOT as rewards for ‘good’ behaviour.
  4. Fast movements tend to be alerting.  Slow, rhythmic movements tend to be calming.
  5. Linear movement tends to be calming (up and down, forward and back, side to side). Rotation tends to be alerting (spinning, twisting, turning)

If you feel your child has major sensory processing problems, consult your physician and occupational therapist. A therapist will provide a sensory diet based on a child’s individual needs, and parents need to take an active role. Don’t rely on the therapy sessions alone to improve a child’s sensory processing behaviours. It is most effective when a sensory diet is carried over at home consistently.


  1. ANON. is it Sensory, Behavioural or Both. Retrieved on 6th Feb 2017, from https://theanonymousot.com/2013/03/28/is-it-sensory-behavior-or-both/
  2. Heather. (2017) Is it Sensory or Behavioural Problems? Retrieved on 7th Feb 2017, from, http://www.growinghandsonkids.com/behavior-or-sensory- integration-issues.html
  3. Center of Development Pediatric therapies. 2017. In Services for Teacher on is it Sensory or Behavioural. Retrieved on 9th Feb 2017, from. http://www.developmental-delay.com/page.cfm/354
  4. Maureen Wallace, 2013. Don’t Mistake Sensory Issues for Behavior Issues. Retrieved on 20th Feb 2017, from http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/987365/does-your-child-have-sensory-issues-or-behavior-issues
  5. Marilyn Wedges 2013. Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd
  6. Kimberly Holland. 2016.The Relationship Between ADHD and Autism. Retrieved on 20th Feb 2017, from http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/autism-and-adhd#Overview1.
  7. Sensory integration Global Network. 2017. Retrieved on 20th Feb 2017, from https://www.siglobalnetwork.org/.


"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Guo Hua

Guo Hua is a highly - motivated Occupational Therapist who has been working with special children for the last 5 years. He has strong communication and organisation skills that enable him to conduct workshops and lectures for parents and professionals beyond his therapy sessions.

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