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Making Back-to-School a Breeze with Classroom Sensory Strategies for Teachers

It’s that time of year again! Each new school year is an exciting time not only for students, but also for teachers! They have worked diligently all summer to prepare their classrooms in order to welcome their new students. Creating a learning environment to fit the needs of each unique student is a big task, but with an understanding of sensory processing and self-regulation and implementation of simple classroom strategies, back-to-school can be a breeze! Blog-Sensory-Classroom-Main-Landscape

What is Sensory Processing?

The classroom is a rich, sensory environment that enhances students’ development. For some students, however, their unique patterns of sensory processing may affect their ability to fully participate in activities. Sensory processing is the body’s ability to filter out important information that is taken in via many sensory pathways and utilize that information to provide appropriate responses within the environment. There may be some students who are over-responsive to input within the classroom, such as covering his or her ears when the fire alarm rings or avoiding art projects that include messy play. For other students, they may be under-responsive and seeking input within the classroom, such as difficulty sitting still at his or her desk and being too rough with peers or classroom materials.

What is Self-regulation?

Sensory processing has a profound impact on self-regulation, which is the ability to maintain an optimum level of arousal in order to participate in daily activities. Self-regulation is a critical component of learning, as it can impact a student’s attention, emotional regulation, and impulse control. Providing individualized sensory experiences increases self-regulation, attention, and overall participation.

Sensory Strategies to Increase Self-regulation Within the Classroom:

Auditory

  • Provide clear, precise, and short directions
  • Ask students to repeat directions back to you
  • Place felt pads or tennis balls on the bottom of chairs to decrease unexpected, loud noises
  • Use large rugs to absorb sound
  • Offer headphones, ear plugs, or calming music
  • Create a “cozy or quiet” corner

Visual

  • Minimize bright or florescent lights
  • Reduce “clutter” within the room, such as art projects or decorations on walls
  • Reduce the amount of words and pictures on worksheets
  • Provide directions on the student’s eye level to increase visual attention
  • Utilize visual schedules
  • Seat students near the front of the room or near you

Tactile

  • Incorporate messy play, including sand trays, finger paint, and shaving cream
  • Do squeezes with Play-doh
  • Utilize hand fidgets while seated at desk or circle time
  • Offer modifications to activities for over-responsive students

Proprioception/Vestibular

  • Incorporate heavy work into the daily routine. Heavy work is any resistive activity that provides deep pressure input to the muscles and joints which provides increased feedback about body position in space.
    • Wall or chair push-ups
    • Animal walks during transition times
  • Utilize sit-and-move cushion or therapy ball for seated work
  • Provide alternatives to sitting at a desk, such as standing to complete work
  • Implement group movement breaks
  • Assign classroom “helpers”
    • Carrying heavy items
    • Pushing in chairs
    • Picking up objects off the floor
    • Passing out papers

Remember, you know your students best! Get to know their individual characteristics and needs prior to implementing these strategies. Whenever possible, consult with an occupational therapist at your school! With the use of these simple strategies, your classroom will provide the best environment for all students to learn and grow!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste: Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Disorder Tolerate Hygiene

Children of all ages often find basic hygiene tasks boring, annoying, and tedious. Who wants to brush their teeth when they can go play outside? While it can be difficult to get any child to perform these tasks, it is exponentially more difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.  Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) involves atypical processing and integration of incoming sensory information. A child with SPD may have difficulty processing any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell). They also may have difficulty processing the two “hidden senses,” proprioception (processing input from muscles and joints) and vestibular processing (processing input regarding movement and head position). Children with difficulty modulating incoming sensory input often have strong sensitivities to certain sensations, which can interfere with their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Why Do Children with Sensory Processing Disorder Struggle with Hygiene?

Many children, especially those with tactile and auditory processing difficulties, have difficulty with hygiene and grooming. Engaging in these activities with children with SPD can often feel like a fight. This is because children with sensory sensitivities often go into “fight or flight” mode when presented with aversive sensations. While the buzz of an electric trimmer, the cold metal of a nail clipper, or sticky soap that just won’t seem to rinse off may not be your favorite, for a child with SPD if may feel like walking the plank!

How Can I Help My Child?

The good news is there are many strategies to help your child with SPD tolerate hygiene tasks with fewer outbursts. Below are a few steps involved in creating a grooming routine that works for you and your family.

Step 1: Figure out what your child is afraid of.

It is very important to determine which particular sensations are the problem. If your child is old enough, you can ask him or her about which specific sensations he or she dislikes or fears. This may also help you find some quick and easy solutions; perhaps the smell of the particular brand of soap or taste of toothpaste is the culprit.

If your child is too young or does not have the self-awareness or communication skills to discuss hygiene tasks, it will be your job to figure out what is bothering him or her. Think of yourself as a “sensory detective” and examine your child during these tasks. Does she pull away at the touch of a brush? Does he cower at the sound of the hair dryer? Observing your child and spending some time analyzing what bothers him or her will get you closer to finding a solution!

Step 2: Change your routine based on their particular sensory sensitivities:

If your child has tactile (touch) processing difficulties or sensitivities:
– Engage in deep touch pressure activities before and after the hygiene task. By providing deep touch pressure to a child’s body, he or she becomes less sensitive to undesired “light touch” inputs. There are many ways to provide deep touch pressure: firm massage to the limbs, upper back, and head; use a therapeutic body brush if you have been trained by an occupational therapist to use one; apply firm pressure on a large pillow or blanket to give your child’s body “squishes.” And don’t forget- tight hugs are a highly underrated mechanism for deep touch pressure!

– Provide pressure during the task. Try applying more pressure to the head when brushing hair. Utilize a weighted or heavy blanket on your child’s lap during a hair or nail trim. Have your child wear a compression shirt or compression vest during activities.

– Consider temperature. If a cold nail clipper feels sterile and uninviting, warm it up. If the faucet is normally on cold when your child washes hands, add some hot water and give a few minutes to warm up. Temperature can make a huge difference!

– Consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. For some children with tactile sensitivities, vibration can be a very regulating sensation. If you are unsure how your child will respond, experiment with a vibrating oral massager (e.g. Z-Vibe, Jiggler) before investing in a pricy electric toothbrush.

If your child has auditory (sound) processing difficulties:
– Warn the child before your turn the device on. This allows the child to mentally prepare for a hair dryer, electric toothbrush, or razor to turn on.

– Allow the child to wear headphones, if it does not interfere with the activity.

Step 3: Build a consistent grooming routine.

Children with SPD rely on routines to help them make sense of the world. The more your child can expect and rely on a familiar routine, the calmer he or she will be.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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