Imagine sitting in a classroom where you are constantly bombarded with stimuli that others may not even notice. This is the reality for children who have sensory processing challenges. Things which may distract them include the buzzing of overhead lighting, other children talking, pencils scratching on another child’s paper, and a variety of other typical classroom sounds. Some students may seek additional sensory to help them cope with stimuli. Others want to avoid it because it bothers them too much and they do not know how to regulate it. A child’s brain learns how to process different sensory stimuli to keep their system in check. Some children are unable to tune out the background and unneeded information. These kids make up anywhere up to 20% of the population. For those on the autism spectrum, 90% struggle with it in one way or another.
When children are oversensitive to sensory input, it changes their demeanor. The excess stimuli may make them anxious and upset, which can make them more impulsive in situations with peers. The key is to provide them with accommodations which help them with their sensory needs. They may need to decompress in a location that is separate from the large amount of sensory input. Other children may require a sensory diet that will help them to focus, be calm, and decrease anxiety during the school day. Teachers and occupational therapists must work together to see what works best for each child. Some ideas which may help children include:
- Hand fidgets – These popular gadgets can be kept in a small basket near a child. When they need something, they are able to quietly grab it to help them. These allow the child to keep their hands busy while making it easier for them to listen to class instruction or lessons.
- Therapy band – This is placed around the front of a child’s chair legs. It allows them to push their feet against the band and move without moving from their seat.
- Timer – Presetting children helps them to be ready for the next transition. The visual cue may help them to stay focused on the current task.
- Weighted lap pad – The heavy weight within the pad gives input that often calms other stimuli down. It allows a child to be more grounded and able to concentrate.
- Movement – Many times a child simply needs to move because they have been sitting too long. Teachers may be able to have a moment to stretch and move for the entire class. Not only will one child benefit from this, but the entire classroom will often be able to focus more from this break in sitting.
When a child has a sensory processing challenge, it is important not to ignore it. The entire team must work together to see what is in the best interest of the individual child. Trial and error is often the best approach. What works for one child may not help another student. Keep up on new sensory processing research and different approaches to helping children in the classroom.