- What is sensory processing disorder and how can I help my child?
- Sensory processing disorder (SPD) kids: How they are different
- You know sensory processing disorder exists, so why don’t they?
- What to do when your sensory sensitive child has a meltdown
- Challenges your sensory sensitive child will face at school
- Does a weighted blanket help with sensory issues?
Children with sensory processing disorder face special challenges when they head off to school. Their ability to learn and pay attention can be adversely affected by the sensory stimuli in the learning environment. Good communication between parents, therapists, and school personnel can help create a better learning environment for children with SPD.
The classroom can be over- or under-stimulating (Tiffany Cook)
School-aged children who are sensory sensitive have the “deck stacked against them” from almost the first day of school. For children who are hypersensitive, or sensory-defensive, the classroom can be a “jungle” of obstacles as soon as they walk in the door.
The lights can be too bright. It can be too noisy for them because there are too many children in the classroom, which also means that other children are brushing up against them causing their sensory receptors to pulse out of control.
On the flip side of the coin, hyposensitive, or sensory-seeking, children can find the public-school classroom equally as frustrating as their hypersensitive counterparts. Sensory-seeking children can become very frustrated with their surroundings because they start to feel that they are not receiving the attention they crave so they become very frustrated and can lash out with aggressive behaviors either toward themselves or others.
Children on both ends of the sensory processing spectrum can struggle with focus, staying on tasks, and/or following directions, which can disrupt learning. With challenges like these, it is recommended that your child have an IEP, an Individualized Education Plan, which outlines any services, accommodations in the classroom, and other support such as an in-school team of individuals trained in multiple disciplines. Among them can be occupational therapists, social workers, speech therapists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, reading specialists and others.
Let your child’s teachers know about their sensitivities (Lesley Scott)
Many teachers may not be able to recognize the difference between bad behavior and a sensory overload. It is therefore very important to have open communication with your child’s teacher to make sure that they understand how SPD may affect your child. The teacher should also know what usually acts as a sensory trigger so that early intervention to avoid meltdowns can happen. Certain activities may be difficult for your child to complete. One child may struggle with the bright lights and background noise, or they may not like the tags on their clothes (sports uniforms may itch or be uncomfortable). They may avoid touch or have trouble with sensing the force they apply. A child who is under-sensitive may even display the completely opposite behavior.
The school setting can amplify the problems you see at home (Amanda Whittington)
The school setting can create an entirely new set of challenges for a child with SPD. Imagine bright fluorescent classroom lights, noisy hallways and lunchrooms, and the strong smells of industrial cleaners and art supplies. All of these new and different stimuli can wreak havoc on the central nervous system of a child with SPD.
For others, having to sit still for long periods of time and not being able to run and jump, can lead an under-stimulated child into behaviors that look like defiance or boredom. The challenging behaviors you see at home that are the result of SPD are likely to be magnified in a school situation.
Working closely with therapists, teachers, and the special education department will help create the opportunity for your child to flourish. Calm down stations, a sensory box, extra recess, or even a special visit to the school nurse to relax are all ways the school can help your child deal with the pressures of their environment.