For a sensory avoider starting school can be quite challenging. Sensory avoiders are individuals who experience heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. They may be sensitive to noise, smells, visual stimuli, or touch which could make the classroom and school setting very overwhelming. By understanding what sensory stimuli are challenging for your child, you’ll be better able to help with the transition back to school. In this blog, we’ll cover some tips and strategies to help with a successful start to school for your sensory avoider.
Preparing for the Transition
If your child is old enough, encourage them to reflect on their specific triggers and sensitivities. You may sit down with them and discuss times that they seem to become overwhelmed, or overstimulated. Knowing what may trigger your child, and them knowing what triggers them is a great first step. Knowing one’s limits and comfort zones can help ease the transition, and allow you to set up other strategies for success.
Communication and working with teachers
Having open communication with teachers and school staff about sensory sensitivities is an important step in preparing to return to school. Share with them what sensory input may be challenging for your child, and what strategies work at home, and discuss ways to incorporate them at school. This way they are better prepared to help. Letting the school know ahead of time will allow you to collaborate with them, and advocate for the appropriate accommodations. You may find that your child would benefit from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan in securing accommodations. You can read more about those here.
Practical Strategies for Success
Establish a Supportive Routine
A consistent daily routine may provide a sense of predictability in your child’s day to help keep them regulated. You may find that creating a morning and/or evening routine that incorporates calming activities is a helpful way to help start and end their day. Calming activities prior to school can help prepare their system for the day ahead. Calming activities after school can help them wind down for the evening after a day full of sensory input.
Sensory-Friendly School Supplies
Sensory-friendly school supplies, such as noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, or weighted items can help an avoider regulate while in the classroom. Noise-canceling headphones are extremely helpful for those sensitive to noise. Weighted items provide proprioceptive input which is calming. Find tools that help your child feel regulated and work to incorporate them into their day.
Break and Recovery Strategies
Work with your child and their teacher to set up sensory breaks during the school day to prevent sensory overload. Activities like deep breathing exercises, sensory-friendly corners, or short walks can make a big impact to help keep them regulated during their busy day.
Manage Emotions and Self-Care
Work with your child to develop a range of coping strategies for managing anxiety and stress related to sensory sensitivities. This may include deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, journaling, and progressive muscle relaxation. Engaging in activities that bring joy is another way to manage stress and anxiety. This might be reading a favorite book, playing a game, spending time outside, or listening to music. It’s important to establish a routine to help recharge and maintain emotional well-being during this time.
Going back to school as a sensory avoider is a manageable process with proper strategies and support. Planning ahead and communicating (with the school, and your child) helps to set them up for success!