Sensory processing disorder (or SPD) is a condition in which the brain has difficulty organizing information that the senses are bringing in. There isn't just one type of SPD, and different children don't always experience the same symptoms. Some people with this disorder are oversensitive. Something that you might not even notice, such as a tag on the back of a t-shirt, may be a major issue for someone with SPD. On the other side of sensory issues, some people with SPD are undersensitive. Sensory processing disorders can affect input from any of the senses, including hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste.
A sensory processing issue can present social, emotional and behavioral challenges for a child during the school day. The child may find typical tasks challenging, may have difficulty making or keeping friends or may disrupt class. Even though the school day isn't exactly easy for a child with SPD, teachers and parents have plenty of options when it comes to helping the child succeed. And, that child can succeed. What can you do to help your child or your student with SPD manage their sensory issues during the school day?
Those little plastic fidget spinners are all the rage. But, before they were sold in the check-out lines at the grocery store for every kid to use, they (and similar devices) were used to help people with sensory issues. Something simple and calming like a spinner, a stress ball or silly putty provides a way for the child to release anxiety and may focus them when they feel overstimulated.
Along with something to 'fidget' with, the sensory kit may contain items that are specific to the child's sensory needs. Other items to include might be additional tactile objects (such as bumpy Lego pieces), chewing gum or photo cards. The parents, teachers and child can work together to decide how and when the student should use the items during the school day. Some teachers may give an older child the freedom to use the kit at will, while younger children may need prompting from an adult.
When the classroom noises are too much for a child with sensory issues, noise-cancelling headphones can help them to calm down and avoid a potentially stressful situation. The child may need these during free times, such as lunch or recess.
Along with cutting down on the noise intrusion, reducing the glare from the bright classroom fluorescent lights can also help the child with SPD. A simple pair of sunglasses will help when the lights are too bright or the sunshine is heavily filtering into the classroom.
Knowing what to expect can help to decrease a child's stress-level and give them the chance to prepare for the day mentally. A consistent routine lets the child know what to expect. With this in mind, the child can prep for potentially overstimulating sensory situations. The familiarity of a routine also breeds a sense of comfort that may help to reduce the child's anxiety.
Children with sensory processing disorders may find what seems like an everyday school experience to be a major challenge. Even so, teachers and parents can work together to help the child overcome sensory issues and do more than just get through the day.