Imagine your body constantly bombarding you with messages. When this happens, you cannot concentrate on the tasks from your teacher. This is the reality for students of all ages in classrooms who have sensory processing issues. No matter what their formal diagnosis may be, many may have sensory concerns. Some students are overwhelmed with outside stimulation in their environment and may become hyperactive. Others may not react to things and seek out sensory input. In addition to this, some kids need sensory to push on with tasks. Every child is different, and it’s important for occupational therapists and special education teachers to work together to create a sensory diet to assist their needs.
Finding the Right Plan
When a child has a sensory diet on their 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP), it may take time for therapists to determine what helps them in different environments within the school day. While much is needed for in the classroom, students may need support for transitions to another room, lunchtime, recess, and specials. The sensory diet will include physical activities and accommodations which give sensory input that a child needs. When used properly, this will typically make them feel better and be able to concentrate, learn new skills, and socialize with others.
Catching a child’s signs of being overwhelmed are a big part of helping them. Of course, if accommodations are in place, this may be avoided entirely. Oftentimes, occupational therapists utilize different tactile resources to see what helps a child. These may be weighted objects, compression vests, textured items on their desk, putty, squishy toys, and other fidgets. Think outside of the box and try a variety of objects with children. Provide younger children with a toolbox filled with objects which they may use. Older students may want a smaller, quieter, and discreet fidget to keep with them. Spinner rings are helpful to those that need something simple.
Assisting Older Students
As a child gets older, they will often be able to advocate for themselves. Over time, they know what may help them to feel less overwhelmed and stressed. As demand gets higher in middle and high school courses, it may be more difficult for them to participate in sessions. Consults are perfect to get information from them, teachers, and parents.
Students may request smaller fidgets which fit in a binder and can be used if they need the support. In addition to this, they may need to be able to leave a classroom. Passes may be necessary to allow students to move out of the environment to decompress. A walk down the hall to get a drink may be sufficient. The process to find what works may take time, but it’s important to explain to teachers why this is crucial for the student and their needs.
What specific sensory toolbox items have you found to work well with your students? Please share with us in the comments section what they are and the ages that they have helped students.