How To Help Kids Who Experience Sensory Overload At School
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition in which sensory input is misinterpreted by the brain. It manifests itself in a variety of ways and creates challenges for individuals who experience the world this way. Some people with SPD are oversensitive to sounds, tastes, sights, smells and touch, while others experience decreased sensitivity. Children with the condition may be accident-prone, have difficulty with social interactions, avoid being touched, be overly resistant to change, find it difficult to focus, and have problems following directions, all of which can make school a real challenge. Luckily, there are ways for teachers and parents to help.
The Child Mind Institute offers many tips for parents sending their kids to school covering topics of clothing, minimizing sensory input, establishing routines, and working with teachers.
Getting dressed and ready in the morning can set the tone for the entire day, so choosing stress-free clothing is important. Using the ‘3 S rule’ (softer, simpler, seamless) can be a huge help. Clothing defines a child’s personal space and should be a source of comfort and safety. Tags and seams can be all day irritants. Purchase soothing, seamless clothing, and remove tags before getting to school. Dress your child in clothes that are easy to get on and have limited buttons, zippers, and laces.
Sights and Sounds
Schools can be vibrant, energizing places. They can also be overwhelmingly noisy and bright. If sound is a trigger for your child, provide ear protection in the form of noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs. Lightly tinted sunglasses can help mute the intensity of fluorescent lighting and glaring white paper.
Surprise can be a potential trigger for anyone with sensory processing issues. The school day can be full of surprises. That is why it so important to establish, maintain, and practice a before school routine. Create processes for waking up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, washing hands, and getting dressed. If a snag occurs with one of the steps while getting ready, comforting structure can be found in the other steps. Routines take commitment but they are invaluable for instilling coping skills that can be learned in childhood and used as adults.
Teachers play important roles in the lives of all children. Creating good teacher-parent communication is vital for understanding how things are going throughout the day. SPD is not uncommon and many teachers know what it is. However, they still need to know each child’s specific situation so that they can do things to help with productivity on a case by case basis. Teachers can employ certain classroom techniques to help children with sensory processing issues.
Some of these include:
- Maintaining a routine.
- Keeping the classroom quiet.
- Allowing self-soothing objects, like fidgets, chew tools and weighted materials.
- Putting exercise bands on the bottom of chairs.
- Decorating with minimalism and nature in mind.
- Using lamps instead of fluorescent lighting.
- Taking frequent movement breaks.
Classroom success for a child with SPD is an attainable goal when parents, children and teachers work together to minimize sensory overload.