Sensory Processing Disorders in the Classroom
Ask any preschool teacher what one of the most difficult aspects of their job is and 9 out of 10 times they are going to tell you it’s dealing with problem behaviors. When you have a child in your class with sensory integration challenges it can make typical behavioral issues seem, well, like child’s play! Little ones with sensory related issues are often the most frustrating to manage in a classroom environment. Without truly having an understanding of the sensations the child is experiencing, it can make implementing helpful interventions challenging, but it is doable with a little creativity and education!
What does sensory processing disorder look like? To best explain it, let me give you some of the red flags which can indicate a possible sensory processing disorder.
-The child may have difficulty with transitions- changes in routines may result in a melt down
-The child may appear clumsy or uncoordinated. They may be described as the “bull in the china shop” and play roughly with peers and toys without realizing it.
-Children who are described as having activity levels that are too high or too low
-The child may avoid certain activities such as messy play, movement based activities, sounds, smells, tastes
-Children may constantly have objects in their mouth
Each child’s sensory needs are going to be very unique but here are some basic suggestions for accommodations in the class.
-Use alternative seating such as wiggle seat or exercise balls.
-Attach panty hose, a bungee cord, or Therabands around the bottom of the chair to provide as a “kick band” to help children whose feet are always moving, nudging others under the table or have difficulty remaining in their chair.
-Use carpeting to muffle noise in the room
-Allow use of weighted blankets in a quiet reading corner of the room
-Provide a small tent, bean bag chair or stack of soft pillows where a child can relax or even hide
-Post visual schedules in the classroom at eye level or make a child-specific schedule
-Use tape or hula hoops on carpet squares to help provide a visual boundary for circle times or center time play
-Keep visual distractions to a minimum and walls uncluttered
-Ask the child to repeat back directions to you in order to check for understanding
-Provide sensory breaks (I work with an excellent pre-K teacher who would have a child hold her hands and jump up and down for a few moments before getting back to work when she recognized he was becoming overstimulated. She also found he was better able to focus on her directions she was giving him when he was jumping!)
-Warn children before any fire drills or sirens, etc. before hand- possibly have ear plugs available for the child.
-Use a timer (sand timer for visual children, bell timer for auditory children) to assist with transitions
-For those who struggle with sitting in circle time, use a strip of Velcro attached to their pants or spot on the carpet as a “fidget” tool. (Actual fidget toys made for this are AWESOME except for the fact that EVERY child then wants them and they can often lead to fights and distractions!)
It is best to get a thorough evaluation by an Occupational Therapist and Behavioral Therapist to determine the most effective treatment strategies for child as each one’s sensory needs are going to be different. These trained professionals can provide a “sensory diet” for your child based on your child’s strengths and needs to best support classroom success.
Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP
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