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BBC Sensory Scales

The BBC Sensory Scales were developed to provide an objective instrument to effectively and efficiently calibrate an individual’s sensory vulnerabilities. The scales are designed to inform educators, clinicians, and family members of the individual’s sensory world. In addition, the scales provide unique information about potential inter-relationships among sensitivities to several sensory domains.

The development of the BBC Sensory Scales has been informed by both clinical observations and neuroscience. The items selected for the scales have been developed over a 15-year period based on reports from parents, teachers, and clinicians. Contemporary neuroscience theory has been used to organize items. The BBC Sensory Scales were developed to demystify several symptoms observed in individuals with hypersensitivities and difficulties processing and regulating behavioral state in response to sensory information (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, fragile-X-syndrome) and to provide a more accurate model of the sensory world experienced by individuals with sensory regulation difficulties. The scales provide researchers, clinicians, and caregivers with a more informed understanding of the sensory world of the individual (i.e., thresholds to react, vulnerabilities to discomfort). Information from these scales may provide opportunities to adjust the sensory environment to reduce defense reactions and to increase opportunities enhance cognitive and social development.

Most other instruments evaluating sensory regulation, assume that a dimension of “hypersensitivity” crosses sensory boundaries. The BBC Sensory Scales does not make that assumption and fills a needed gap by documenting the profile of sensory domain issues. The BBC Sensory Scales focus on identifying the specific sensory domains in which hypersensitivity and regulation disorders occur. By studying sensory domain specific issues, the scales inform researchers and clinicians regarding specific neural mechanisms that may be related to the atypical sensory processing.

For example, to inquire about a child’s tactile hypersensitivity, an item on other scales might ask whether or not a child avoids or dislikes crowded places. While it is true that many children with developmental or behavioral disorders dislike crowds, the answer to this question provides no useful information that could be translated into a potential intervention. In contrast, items in the BBC Sensory Scales request additional information that would help identify atypical functioning of specific neural circuits. Such a question would ask how often a child reacts emotionally or aggressively when very cold or very warm or certain textures touch the child’s face. Since specific nerves convey tactile sensations from the face to the brain, answers to these questions inform us that the child might have a problem regulating the sensory portions of these nerves and may provide a starting point for developing a clinical intervention. In addition, items in the BBC Sensory Scales request information on the developmental trajectory of the hypersensitivity such age of onset, age of peak sensitivity, and age sensitivity resolved.

Clinical and research utility: The BBC Sensory Scales can identify specific areas of dysfunction in clients/students and may inform clinicians to refine interventions. The scales provide a method to organize disparate reports of reactivity across various sensory systems with an opportunity to evaluate features of hypersensitivity.

For more information, or to request of copy of the BBC Sensory Scales for use, please contact Dr. Keri Heilman at