Children with sensory processing disorders (SPD) or related symptoms can be tricky to manage in the classroom. Because some students can be sensory seeking, their behavior can be disruptive, while hypersensitive children tend to withdraw, making it difficult to teach them at all.
The Sensory Therapies and Research Center has reported that between five and 16 percent of the population exhibits sensory symptoms. So it’s very likely that the average classroom will contain one or more sensory students.
Students diagnosed with SPD should follow the sensory plan outlined by their occupational therapists. But any child who is sensory seeking or avoiding can benefit from these suggestions for adapting classrooms to best accommodate everyone:
- Create a crash/quiet corner. Sensory-seeking students need a place to escape to where they can expend some pent-up energy. A corner with large pillows, heavy blankets and even weighted lap pads can be just the place. On the other hand, an overstimulated student can find relief in the same corner. Consider providing hearing protection and sunglasses for those who are sensory avoiding.
- Assign some “heavy work.” Large muscle exercise can help meet the needs of sensory seekers. This can be as simple as moving a desk or a stack of books. You may want to have sensory-craving students help put chairs up at the end of the day or partner with another teacher so they can carry items from one classroom to another as needed. At the same time, a sensory-avoiding student may need a break from such large body movement.
- Provide time and space. A hypersensitive child may be overwhelmed by the everyday sights, sounds and even smells of a busy classroom. If this is the case, give them a special spot that maximizes their personal space. Consider their visual environment as well. While most kids love a brightly-colored classroom, those who are particularly sensitive may need a less stimulating view.
- Take advantage of recess. Encourage hyposensitive children to run and swing. These movements will help them balance their sensory need for a calm body in the classroom. Allow hypersensitive students to withdraw from playground noise and activity and stay inside to read or relax.
- Manage fidgeting. Sensory students tend to have roaming hands – so keep them busy. Arm them with stress balls or apply small strips of rough Velcro to the bottom of their desks. Some enjoy wearing rubber-band bracelets or have special pencil holders that give them the input they crave.
- Modify seating. A large rubber band or exercise band around a student’s desk legs can provide sensory seekers opportunity to bounce, push or pull, reducing alternative movements that would be highly disruptive. Some respond well to the sensory input of a bumpy seat cushion or an exercise ball in place of their chair.
A few well-placed tactics can enhance classroom management and enrich students’ learning environment and the overall satisfaction of their school day. And by recognizing when a child needs a break, educators can help each one learn to read their unique body cues.
Contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services to learn more about the specialized needs of sensory students and how to make a genuinely positive difference in their school experience.