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What are “Normal” Sensory Profiles for Children?

It is important to be mindful that we ALL have sensory preferences. Professionals may use testing to determine children sensory profiles and preferences.

When you work or parent children with sensory processing deficits, you quickly see how each child is unique and has sensory preferences. It can be easy to fall into the trap that everything is “sensory” or not “normal” behaviors. It is important to be mindful that we ALL have sensory preferences. Professionals may use testing to determine children’s sensory profiles and preferences.

Pediatric physical and occupational therapists use normal development scales to determine children’s progress when it comes to fine motor and gross motor skill development. Just like typical motor development is crucial to understanding atypical motor development, it is important to understand the processing of sensory information in typical and atypical development. Recent research examined typical development and sensory profiles of neurotypical children.

What Does the Research Say About Neurotypical Children?

Child: Care,Health and Development published research on a cross-sectional study using a large sample of 3-14 year old children (n = 1132) gathered from a larger study of the reliability and validity of the Sensory Profile 2nd Edition.  The community sample included children with and without developmental conditions.  The researchers used latent profile analysis to determine what sensory subtypes are present in a large community-based sample.

Five Sensory Subtypes

The results suggested that five sensory subtypes characterized a large community-based sample of children with and without conditions.

Balanced sensory profile

Balanced sensory profiles are characterized by evenly distributed and low frequency of sensory behaviors.   These children may explore different sensory stimuli and easily engage in different sensory experiences. The majority of typically developing children fell into this subtype (88.6%), 35.1% of children with ASD, 53.1% of children with ADHD and the majority of children with other conditions also were in the balanced sensory profile subtype.

Intense sensory profile

This subtype is characterized by high frequencies of all sensory patterns.  The children concurrently showed high avoidance, sensitivities, registration and seeking. Children in this profile may dislike many sensory experiences and also have difficulty with registering sensory stimuli. They may engage in sensory-seeking behaviors.  Only 2% of typically developing children fell into this subtype.  For children with ASD, 19.5% had this subtype and 10.4% with ADHD.

Vigilant sensory profile

Vigilant sensory subtype is characterized by increased sensitivity and avoidance. The children likely avoids sensory experiences and shows aversion to different types of sensory stimuli.  Typically developing children had the lowest percentage in this subtype with only 1 1% and the highest percentage of participants with ASD (24.7%) and ADHD (12.5%).

Interested sensory profile

Interested sensory subtype is characterized by increased sensory-seeking behaviors with other sensory patterns in the expected range.  This profile was the significantly youngest group. Children in this group may be seeking out different sensory stimuli, such as movement, tactile or auditory, and enjoy intense sensory experiences.   Statistically, 6.1% of typically developing children, 8.9% of children with ASD and 13.5% of those with ADHD fell into the interested sensory subtype.

Mellow until… sensory profile

Mellow until sensory subtype is characterized by increased scores in avoidance and registration. Children in this profile may not exhibit low registration although when a stimulus becomes enough for the child to notice, the stimuli may quickly avoid it.  Statistically, 2.3% of typically developing children, 11.7% of children with ASD and 10.4%% of those with ADHD fell into the mellow until… sensory profile.


The researchers concluded that sensory experiences are universal because every individuals’ daily activities and routines include sensory stimuli. This study suggests that there are 5 sensory subtypes occur across the general population of children including those with and without various developmental conditions.  They recommend future research on intervention strategies and environmental supports for children and their families based on their responses to sensory stimuli as opposed to a diagnostic category alone.

Reference:  Little, L. M., Dean, E., Tomchek, S. D., & Dunn, W. (2017). Classifying sensory profiles of children in the general population. Child: care, health and development, 43(1), 81-88.