In the age of multimedia, we would have thought that having a wide range of media to express and receive information via our many senses, that we would have reached the ideal and have become accustomed to having them around us. However, for some student, this is far from the truth.
The term sensory processing refers to children and adults being overly or under sensitive to ordinary sounds, which they might find painful, smells which they might deem as very irritating, textures too abrasive, ordinary lights blinding, flavours overwhelming among other negative effects from other sensory input. A student who is overly sensitive may dread learning in such an environment where their senses are heightened and may have an aversion to different types of sounds, smell, touch, being fearful of a crowd or large groups and hence reluctant to play with other students and or use certain playground equipment.
As a result of being overly sensitive the student may not want to handle or touch the manipulatives in your class, hence s/he may have slower development in motor skills. The student may move slowly or avoid certain activities, he or she may be unaware of their own strength and easily break things, including their pencil point; by pressing too hard and by ripping the page of a book which, s/he was only turning.
Conversely, the student who is under sensitive may be uncoordinated, clumsy, bumps into things and prone to accidents, appears to be risk taker because s/he is unaware of the danger, may need to touch/feel things and is unaware of inappropriate touching of people. The child may have a fear of danger when there is actually no danger at all. S/he may also have a high pain threshold and lack understanding of personal space.
As education practitioners, we have to be aware of our students’ responses to the activities we have in and out of our classrooms.
Things to do if you observe students’ over or under response to things in their environment which for most students is commonplace.
- Take note or log the incidences over time.
- Share concerns with colleagues who also work with this student.
- Request SENCO/HOY/HOD to also observe.
- Share collective findings with parents. Ask if they are aware of these occurrences at home.
- Seek external support, a therapist who will engage the student in meaningful activities over time to return the student to ‘normalcy.’
Things you can do in your class
- Provide a quiet place to work if affected by noise.
- Offer an alternative room with lower light, or a seat where s/he will not be affected by the light.
- Provide plain text only reading material if affected by colours.
- Provide headphones so that student can minimise the volume or written text if affected by audio recording.
- Provide earplugs for occasions where there will be lots of noise: lunch room, hall, gym, break times or fire drills.
- Ask parents to provide tested eyewear for outdoors to reduce the effect of light (refracted lenses.)
- If students are mature, have a sign or signal so that student can communicate when s/he is becoming overwhelmed.
- For students who are undersensitive, during break, lunch or PE, an appropriate adult should be assigned to keep the students reminded of remaining within safe boundaries.
- Parents can buy soft fabric for clothing and remove all tags
Any accommodation provided for the student should be documented and shared with staff.
By: Debbie Hamilton Bogues