Sensory processing issues in school
What are sensory processing issues?
Children with sensory processing issues can struggle to handle the information being thrown at them by their senses, and at times feel totally overwhelmed. They may also have difficulty being aware of their own bodies, including struggles with balance and coordination.
Children can be affected by sensory issues in different ways, for example, some may be particularly sensitive to sensory stimuli, whereas others may be much less sensitive and therefore the signs and symptoms can be much less noticeable to onlookers.
Interestingly, children can be oversensitive or undersensitive to input, or even both.
How can they affect children in school?
Bright lights and loud noises can be particularly challenging for some children, so your child may find particular classrooms or areas of the school more challenging than others. Others may feel totally distracted by the feeling of the labels in their clothes and find it hard to concentrate on what’s going on around them. It is very common for those less-sensitive children to appear fidgety and unable to sit still, distracting others from their lessons at times.
Extreme meltdowns and running or bolting when these feelings become too much are often observed, where the child is trying to physically get away from whatever it is that is overwhelming them.
On the contrary, it is also possible for children to seek out extra sensory stimulation. They may have a constant need to touch certain people or textures (even when this is not appropriate). They may not understand personal space, and in some instances can have an incredibly high tolerance for pain.
What can parents and staff do to help?
There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues, but there are therapies and physical changes (both at home and at school) that can help your child to manage better.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) commonly work with children with sensory issues in schools, often engaging children in physical activities to help regulate their sensory input. Both parent and teacher will have the opportunity to discuss ideas on how the classroom environment could be made more comfortable, together with the OT.
Ideas might include:
· Making sure the chair is a good fit (feet flat on the floor, elbows resting on the desk)
· Cushions, pillows or even balls may be an option for children who struggle to stay still for any period of time
· Providing sensory breaks (which could include walking, jumping, fidget toys)
· Working with the OT to learn more about their proximity to others and the concept of personal space
With combined support from the parent, teacher and OT, the school environment can be much more accommodating and understanding of a child with sensory issues, helping them to learn and succeed.
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