How To Help The SPD Child In The Classroom

Positioning of Seating

If a student is distracted, or easily overwhelmed by sounds, or unexpected touches, it calms the child to "have their own space". This can easily be accomplished by positioning their desk, or the table where they sit, at the outer edge of the room, or on an end. It is a relief to them to be able to see what is coming towards them, and not to be bumped constantly or unexpectedly. If possible, position their seat near a source of direct light, as opposed to fluorescent lighting, which can hum, flicker, and drive a kid to distraction.

Notice whether the child has one eye stronger than the other. Position seating on the left side of the room if right is stronger and right side of the room if left eye is stronger.

Allow the child to follow with his finger, or ruler to assist his visual tracking. If the child is quickly frustrated, or overwhelmed by a page full of written material, encourage the use of a piece of paper to cover, or block out part of the worksheet, or reading page.

Weighted vests, a stuffed animal, or something heavy in their laps may be comforting and calming to these children. Try it.

Movement Breaks

If your student appears not to be listening, is unable to concentrate, or wiggling uncomfortably in their seat, he probably needs a movement break. This can be accommodated with a restroom break, cleaning erasers, sharpening pencils, or carrying items to another room. Having the class stand up, and do simple exercises for a couple of minutes may also help the SPD child, without drawing any attention to the one having difficulty. Take stretch breaks. Have the whole class do five chair sit-ups before settling down for seat work. The entire class will be calmer, and more focused.

Allow the child to have a chewy tube on the end of his pencil helps to keep them organized. Always give straws for drinks. Allow frequent drinks, if requested. A few sips of cool water may help them feel more alert.

Calming Input

Fidget items, small handheld squeezes, or rubber tubing, helps the child provide his own input, while not distracting the class. Try to provide a quiet space, a child can go to, if they feel overwhelmed, or the noise is bothering them. Be aware that some sounds really may be hurting the child, and take care to speak softly, and slowly, if you see the child may not be listening, or understanding. Ear plugs, or simple earphones may help him concentrate when trying to read or study.

If a child is sensitive to touch, do not use light touch, but with a verbal, or visual forewarning, touch more firmly, instead. Respect their wishes regarding clothing, as certain textures, seams, collars, or tags may irritate the child.  Allow the child to walk at the front (as the engine) or the back (as the caboose) of the line. Crammed in beside other children may be just too uncomfortable, and may cause a fight or flight response. The children who are tactile defensive are unable to control the autonomic response that triggers a severe reaction to what the brain perceives as a threat. Unexpected touching, and bumping by other children can and frequently does, trigger that response. They cannot help it, but this response can be averted with thoughtful positioning of seating, and walking in line.

Some children may need to sit crosswise, or frequently re position themselves to be comfortable, and alert. Allow some movement, instead of a policy of “sit and stay”. These children really may not be able to sit comfortably for more than a few minutes, and absolutely nothing will be accomplished by trying to force a child to do something he cannot do, except frustration for the teacher and the child.

Outdoor Play

Sports may be difficult for these children. They may not have the coordination, muscle strength, motor planning ability, or visual spatial awareness to be able to perform well. Try to provide play activities where the student will have a reasonable expectation of success.

Never, ever refuse a child recess, due to their seeming “misbehavior”. Recess is just what they need to provide their bodies with enough stimulation to be able to settle down when they come back to their seats. CAUTION! Refusing an SPD child their much-needed recess time, may well result in a MELTDOWN. If you see undesirable behaviors such as self-stimulation, aggression, over-excitability, or even lethargy, the best way to help these children become relaxed, alert and focused is to ADD sensory input.

Notice whether the child is participating during recess. Are they standing alone? Reluctant to swing, or slide? Often, these children may need someone to encourage them to try playground equipment that is frightening to them, or they may need help to stay on. Ask for an assistant, or buddy if needed, to play with and engage the child.

Remember… when these children get enough of the sensory input they need, they are calm, alert, happy, and able to learn. When they do not... they are miserable. And so are you!

Copyright © Michelle Morris.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:

Michelle Morris is the mother of six, and parent of a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder. She is whole heartedly dedicated to promoting awareness and advocacy for families with SPD children.  She has published over 30 articles supporting and educating parents about SPD.

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