Our senses help us understand and navigate our world. They help us feel, see, taste, etc. When one or more of those processes is more or less sensitive to world, life feels different to that person. It is hard to understand what it feels like to have sensory differences unless you have sensory differences. It’s easy to tell someone to ignore a noise that doesn’t seem excessively annoying to you. It’s hard to understand when someone has an intense need for pressure unless you have a similar need. Having these sensory differences can be anxiety producing and stressful. In a classroom, it can make that person less attentive or have a more difficult time sitting still. Kids don’t always have the words or understanding to express what they are feeling. As a result, children who have sensory processing issues are often misunderstood.
Sensory issues are often associated with children who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is also an association between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and sensory issues. Many times a child will have sensory issues and not have any other disability. Those children may have Sensory Processing disorder, which is a neurological disorder that makes processing and responding to sensory information more difficult. A person with Sensory Processing Disorder may be more or less sensitive than most people to any or all of the senses. Sensory Processing Disorder is not yet widely understood by the majority of people. Most people have an idea about what Autism is or ADHD, but people often do not know about Sensory Processing Disorder. Many school professionals have not learned about it and do not understand it. Many parents have never heard of it. If you have any concerns that your child may have difficulty with sensory processing, I strongly recommend The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition This book was explains the various types of sensory processing and helps parents to understand what their child may be feeling. It is transformative for a parent to finally understand what is going on with their child.
Strategies for the Classroom:
Often making small changes to the environment can help a child regulate his own body and focus in the classroom.
A seating disk fits on a chair and is filled with air. It allows a child to wiggle in his seat, without moving around and causing a distraction. The bumps and the movement can provide the sensory input needed to help a child focus better.
The ball chair also allows movement and is good for low tone as well.
Weighted lap pads help provide proprioceptive input that helps establish increased body awareness, improves attention span and concentration, and has calming benefits.
Strategies for home:
Trampolines provide deep pressure. Also, it is great exercise. For some children, when they start having difficulty regulating his or her body, jumping on the trampoline helps provide the needed pressure and will calm the body after a few minutes.
The Body Sock is made of tight material that pushes back against the child’s movement. This can help children with coordination and spatial positioning.
Disclaimer: I am not an Occupational Therapist and am not an expert in this area. I am writing this article to raise awareness in sensory issues that can have a huge impact in the classroom and within a family. Sometimes, minor accommodations can make significant improvements in the life of a child, which I have witnessed firsthand. I encourage any parents who think his or her child may have a sensory issue to seek help through an Occupational Therapist. In most cases, this will fall outside of Special Education and schools, unless the sensory issues are associated with a disability, such as Autism. Some schools are more proactive than others and have more Occupational Therapy support than others. Because OT services are not mandated outside of an IEP or 504 Plan, many schools will not be equipped to help you with this. It is recommended that you seek support through an OT, who can provide individual strategies to use in the classroom and at home.