Sarah Turner, Ph.D.

    Psychotherapy for Individuals, Couples, Families & Children

Regulatory Disorders


Children exhibit differences in their responsiveness to sensations, in how they process these sensations, and then how they plan their motor reaction to the sensations.

The above processes lie at the heart of a child’s ability to think, feel and interact!

If a child is unable to process sensory information correctly, a regulating problem may result.

These regulatory problems are often present from birth due to the physiological make-up of the child.

Regulatory disorders are characterized by the infant or young child's difficulties in regulating behavior and physiological, sensory, attentional, motor or affective processes, and in organizing calm, alert, or affectively positive state.

The diagnosis of regulatory disorder involves both a sensory, sensory-motor, and processing difficulty and a distinct behavioral pattern indicated by one or more behavioral symptoms.

The child may present with:

  • eating or sleeping problems
  • poor persistence of attention
  • over- or under-activity
  • difficulty in adjusting to new environment or routine
  • delayed language development due to inadequate auditory processing
  • visual-spatial processing difficulties
  • motor planning problems

Due to the above, the regulatory disordered child may experience learning problems.

Four distinct subtypes:

Type I:  Hypersensitive:
 Fearful and cautious
 Negative and defiant

Type II:  Under-reactive:
 Withdrawn and difficult to engage

Type III:  Motorically disorganized/impulsive:
 Poor behavior control coupled with sensory seeking

Type IV:  Other:  Motor or sensory processing difficulty but with behavior patterns        not adequately described by one of the three defined subtypes

Dr. Stanley Greenspan classifies the regulatory disorders into five main patterns:

  • The hypersensitive, fearful child who tends to overreact and needs a safe, quiet environment. 
  • The hypersensitive, stubborn and defiant child who has an enormous need to control because she is extremely overstimulated. 
  • The hyporeactive, pain-insensitive child who may appear aggressive due to his intense craving behavior. 
  • The self-absorbed, underreactive child with low motor tone and low activity level who needs both reality checks and energizing. 
  • The child with motor planning problems, who is often labeled ADHD because of her inattentive appearance.



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