The classroom can be difficult for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). The variety and intensity of sensory input can be overwhelming for some. This may result in difficulties with focus, participation, and behavior. Others may be able to ‘hold it together’ while at school but are so ‘done in’ that by the time they get home, they break down.
Finding the right sensory strategies to help improve self-regulation and sensory processing at school will allow for more success and a better transition home!
Sensory processing at school?
If you need to figure out what sensory processing is, read up about it here. Understanding what sensory processing is and the types of input we receive during our day is very helpful.
In the classroom (or school in general) you can experience all types of sensory input.
- Visual input from the lights, reading off the board, and watching the teacher and other children move around the room.
- Tactile input from clothing, touching or bumping into other people, the feel of paper, crayons/pen/pencils.
- Auditory input from the teacher, someone tapping their pencil, chairs sliding across the floor, papers turning or crumpling.
- Proprioceptive input from the chair pressing into them, climbing, jumping, and other play at recess.
- Vestibular input from moving around the room, running, swinging, being upside, or just registering an upright position in the chair.
- Oral motor input from lunch, drinking water, and even the flavor in your mouth.
- Olfactory input from smells, in the lunch room, or in the classroom.
Of course, there are so many other examples of sensory input that occur at school. I’m sure you can think of a few that are specific to your kid.
Effects of sensory input at school
Some kids need more input and being at school doesn’t allow them to fulfill their needs. Others may be more sensitive to certain inputs and become overstimulated by the input received while at school.
In both cases, you may see a child shut down, act out, be unable to sit still, bump into others or be too ‘touchy’, talk out of turn, not follow along with activities, or many other behaviors.
If your child is able, ask them when they get upset or overwhelmed, and talk to their teacher about when they notice your child struggling to focus or participate.
Are there any common themes? Does it happen more with quiet, self-work time? Or during when the teacher is talking and its louder, or noisy times? Do they do better after recess or lunch (when they were able to move more and get more input)?
When you can more accurately identify when your child becomes dysregulated, it will be easier to guide strategies to help them.
Often kids with SPD need more sensory input during their day at school to help them stay regulated. Even those that get overstimulated by, let’s say auditory input, can do better when they receive increased proprioceptive or tactile input to help keep their system in balance.
Sensory strategies for the classroom
There are many different strategies that can be used to help in the classroom, but today I’m going to focus on activities that are discrete and can be performed anytime, without others noticing.
- Sponges, soft squeeze toys
- Pencil toppers
- Calm strips
- Fabric with preferred texture in pocket
- Deep breathing (read this blog on the benefits of deep breathing)
- Chair pushups
- Self-hand squishes (press palms together, hook fingers, and pull apart)
- Self hug
- Exercise band on legs of chair/desk for foot fidget
- Gum (if allowed)
- Chewy, crunchy foods at lunch
- Cold or hot (whichever is preferred) beverages
- Sucking through a straw
- Chewy on the end of a pencil
Some kids do really well using a visual schedule, and this may help the transition between school and after school/home.
Teaching your kid and using some of these simple strategies can help them to learn how to self-regulate and stay engaged during the day. If your child struggles with sensory processing disorder it’s always recommended to perform a daily sensory diet, as well as find an occupational therapist who specializes in working with kids with SPD.
Using all these tools will set you up for the most success.