Sensory processing is a very complex concept. As the STAR Institute states, it is “the neurology of how we feel”. I like to think of sensory processing with the analogy/visual of “cups”. There are seven [well… technically eight… interception will be a conversation for another day!] sensory systems: auditory (sound), gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), visual (sight), tactile (touch), proprioception (body awareness), and vestibular (movement). In order for our students to be regulated and ready to learn, ideally, all of their “sensory cups” would be “full” [not overflowing, nor too empty]. For the purpose of this blog, we are going to focus on students who have “larger cups” in one [more many] of the sensory systems. I will share some tips for supporting these students!
A quiet school environment may not “fill the cup” of every student. Do you have a student who is constantly making noise during transitions or independent work time? These students may be seeking out additional auditory input to “fill their cups”. Below are some strategies to consider when attempting to meet the needs of students who need more auditory input:
- Seat them close to the instruction; provide instructions with increased volume
- Allow then to listen to music during independent work times
- Consider adding a white noise machine near their work area
- Incorporate activities that include auditory feedback [iPad apps, sound puzzles, videos]
- Sing songs or use rhymes/chants as part of instruction
- Utilize audiobooks or a whisper phone during independent reading
- Use visuals to help the child understand their voice volume
If a student’s tactile “cup” isn’t full, they may seek out tactile input by touching others students, touching items around the room or in the halls, and/or fidgeting with anything/everything around them! Below are some ideas for meeting this sensory need in a way that is still conducive to learning [for the sensory seeking student as well as those around them]:
- Incorporate tactile input into learning via things like:
- Trial a variety of fidgets to find one that works for the student and is not distracting
- Utilizing play dough in the classroom can be a great tool
This is probably one of the most common areas we see students seeking additional input in the classroom. It can also be the most disruptive. As we mentioned before, it is important that we consider how to meet these needs in a way that is advantageous for the student in the school setting. Below are some recommendations for activities that target the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. Please make sure to always consult with your OT when considering adding sensory-based strategies to your classroom!
- My district has sensory rooms and paths that can be used by students after having a specific routine created by the OT.
- Swing, trampoline, climbing structures, scooter boards, etc.
- Yoga and/or animal walks as a movement break
- Get the SSE movement break yoga for FREE using the link!
- Classroom jobs/helper tasks that include heavy work [cleaning the chalkboard, moving desks, putting up chairs, delivering books, getting up to open the door/turn off the light, etc.]
- Consider different types of seating [or the option to stand] with OT/PT to find what works best for the student.
Check out my blog on how to support sensory seekers in general education for more ideas! Remember – everyone is unique in how they process sensory information! A sensory evaluation conducted by your occupational therapist (OT) is best practice prior to implementing any sensory-based strategy. Once you determine what works well for your student based on their unique needs identified in an evaluation, consider grabbing the Sensory Self Regulation Toolkit to support students in independently using strategies for self-regulation!