Classroom Strategies for Sensory Processing Disorder

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Despite the DSM 5’s  (poor) decision not to recognize Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as a disorder, it exists. And it affects many of our children. (One of mine included!) Fortunately, in the classroom, more teachers are becoming aware of SPD and the unique needs of children who have it. So what are helpful classroom strategies teachers are using for students with SPD?

First, let’s quickly review.

Sensory Processing Disorder can affect one or more of the senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. (There are two more systems to consider, vestibular and proprioceptive, but for now, let’s just simplify and stick to the five senses.)

Over-responsive means that the sense is overly sensitive.

Under-responsive means that the sense is more dulled and is more sought after.

My daughter is over-responsive to touch, sight, and sound. (This roughly translates to lights needing to be dimmed, music needing to be soft, and clothing needing to be soft and without tags.)

Opposite this would be under-responsive when a child craves hugs, wants loud, and likes bright lights. Roughly. (This is a total overgeneralization because it all depends on the child and how their senses process information.)

Classroom Strategies for Sensory Processing Disorder

(Most people say these strategies are a sensory diet. It seems weird to me that activities and strategies to help with SPD are called a “diet” so I’m going to stick with the word strategies instead.)

This is a generalized list to help get you started. Please consult with your Occupational Therapist for the specifics that will best serve your child.

  • Allow fidget toys, weighted materials, or chewing tools to be used for self-soothing.
    Inflatable cushions for sitting.
    Water bottles with a top to chew and sip. Gum. Chew tool like a necklace.
    Weighted vest or weighted lap pads, or weighted blanket for grounding.
    Fidget tool like a stress ball.
  • Put exercise bands on the bottom of chairs to keep feet busy and close to floor. (Instead of all over the place! We still have these on our chairs at home.)
  • Keep the classroom quiet. Consider noise-canceling headphones if necessary.
  • Use lamps or a light material covering the fluorescent lights.
  • Use colored overlays on bright white papers.
  • Decorate with minimalism and natural environments in mind.
  • Flexibility. If a meltdown happens, usually it’s because one of the senses is having trouble processing information. (One example would be handwriting worksheets — this can be very hard and might need the help of an OT to avoid a total meltdown.)
  • Take frequent movement breaks. Do movements that are whole body especially jumping or pushing.
  • Use visuals with auditory instruction and directions.
  • Keep a predictable routine. Tell students if and when that will change.

See if your child’s classroom teacher knows about SPD (sensory processing disorder) and what they know. Then tell the teacher a bit more about your child’s particular needs. If you have suggestions for classroom strategies, tell the teacher.

Want a classroom strategies sensory processing handout to share with your child’s teacher? I found a nice handout on Miss Allison’s Class and another helpful handout from Hartley’s Boys.

More Information and Resources for SPD

Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

Hartley’s Life with Three Boys (no longer active but still helpful)

The Sensory Spectrum

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The Connection Between Anxiety and SPD

Children’s Books with Characters on the Autism Spectrum

How to Support Introverted Children at Home and in the Classroom

3 Strategies to Help Kids Develop a Growth Mindset

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