So here we are. A new school year has started. Everyone has begun settling into the routine of school and your classroom management except for that one student who just can’t seem to sit still or appears to be “too sensitive to everything”. This is the student that is constantly out of his/her seat, fidgeting for no reason, reminding you that the lights are too bright, that he/she cannot concentrate because someone is mowing their lawn somewhere in a 20 mile radius, etc.
What do you do as a teacher? How do you appropriately handle this precious child while ensuring not only he/she is learning but everyone else in the class is too, despite these distractions? Is it a disability? Or could it simply be stimulation in the environment. Before we jump onto the ADHD or Autism bandwagon, let’s consider Sensory Processing.
It is advantageous for us to review what Sensory Processing is exactly. Very simply, it is the way the brain receives and responds to information that comes in through the senses. It is processing sensory input. We all do it constantly and without knowing it. We can hear the hum from the projector, we can see the sunlight bouncing off the glass of water on the teacher’s desk, we can feel the way our clothing is touching our skin, we can smell the scent of freshly sharped pencils. Most of the time, we learn how to sift through all these inputs and focus on only what is necessary for that moment. Some of us seem to have “heighten senses” where we are constantly observant to every little input while some of us are a bit more oblivious to the world around us. It is only when the sensory input awareness falls into the extremes, where day to day functioning is hindered, that it’s considered to be a sensory processing disorder.
We all have our own unique sensory preferences. Do you feel like you can concentrate better when studying if there is music playing? Does the smell of lavender seem to calm you when you are upset? There’s a reason for this and our students are no different. Sensory input is very important component to address within the classroom for all students but especially for the “rowdy” ones. So, as a teacher, help your students explore their sensory preferences. Reassure your students that their sensory preferences and aversions, as long as it doesn’t interfere with day to day functioning, is absolutely normal and it’s what makes each of us special. Talk to them about what sensory experiences they enjoy and what do they dislike. Also, help your students research ways they can encompass these experiences to helping them stay calm and attentive in school. This would be a fun project for the whole class without the students realizing you are actually targeting on that one “disruptive” student.
Author: Kelly Dale, School Psychologist