Can school make SPD worse for my child?

(El Paso, Texas)

My 7 year old daughter seems to have more problems with SPD during the school year than when home. She was diagnosed about 1 year ago and received OT and PT for about 3 months weekly (proprioceptive, vestibular, & low muscle tone, were the areas of concern). We made huge progress in a short amount of time.

We then moved this past summer and all her difficulties (fits, muscle tone, frustration, etc) went away.

We stopped OT during the summer b/c of the move, however her confidence increased and she was like a different child. She made huge progress in handwriting and even went from hating swimming to swimming laps independently.

We are guessing we were providing the therapy by the swimming, and other activities that we did without consciously knowing it. We anticipated the move being a hurdle but actually was a blessing until school started.

The first month was fine. Then things fell apart. She stopped eating (began oral defensiveness problems which she never had; eating tiny bites, fear of choking, etc.), homework became a 2 hour battle, and it seemed she would hold it together at school and immediately after getting buckled in the car she would release her emotions.

We initially struggled finding an OT, but have finally found a very good OT and worked through many of her difficulties but find during long vacations (Thanksgiving, Christmas); she's a different child. We see NO signs of her sensory issues when she is home for long breaks from school. Which leads me to think there are triggers at school.

Unfortunately the school is not that knowledgeable on this and her teacher thinks I am crazy when I tell her about the homework struggles and that she is in therapy. She is supportive and listens she just "doesn't see any of this at school". Her teacher reports no problems, she is excelling in all areas and basically she is doing great.

The environment has me concerned as her class has behavior problems, the teacher is a yeller, and she has not made any friends. She is extremely quite, shy, small for her age, and soft spoken. She tells me that she doesn't like recess because she has no one to play with (we have role played and discussed ways to make friends, etc). She eats alone and doesn't socially interact with peers.

I've tried to talk to the school and they basically say "kids will learn it on there own"- not

helpful. She has always been shy and soft spoken, I just worry about the environment.

We have neighbors who she plays with and provide other social interactions for her. The school is largely Hispanic and many of the parents do not speak English, furthering my difficulty in helping her socially.

In all honesty I struggle with finding someone to have over (language is a huge barrier) and she can't think of anyone at school she wants to have over. On the other hand when I pick her up kids make a point to say good bye and when they see her they come up and are friendly to her. I kind of get the impression they don't know how to respond to her. They like her, she is just very quite. Her teacher tells me kids this age like to play alone - I disagree as she is telling me she has no one to play with.

She also has very serious food allergies that I think cause some anxiety for her in the lunchroom. She never says she doesn't want to go to school, she likes her teacher, she is just having social issues and I fear hidden anxiety. I am assuming anxiety can bring out the sensory challenges.

We are in the southwest, not known for education. This private school is our best option, the public schools are not very good and very large which would not be good for her given the social aspect. I really don't feel home school would benefit her as I am tryng to help her adjust socially to new experiences (even though it is killing me to watch).

Am I right in this thought process? Her OT agrees with me on the school situation as it being the best option at this time.

Her OT is very curious about the school environment and the triggers at school. The OT is very surprised to find vacations are so vastly different than school weeks. When I describe the changes she seems very surprised. She is doing some research on behavior therapists to see if any do blind observations in the classrooms?? Any thoughts?

So my questions... I've read so much about routine and structure can a school environment make her SPD surface so drastically?

Any avenues I should be looking at?

Thank you for this wonderful avenue for parents to communicate with others - the website is great.

Check out the article:
Can School Make SPD worse?.

Comments for Can school make SPD worse for my child?

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Mar 20, 2012
things to do at home
by: Anonymous

Every child w/ SPD is different in what works for them. For my son working with a schedule is what works best for him. We let him know in the morning what will be the expected schedule when he gets home. Granted things happen that change this schedule. He also is obsessed with how many minutes until the next thing to do. So I have found that setting time limits and letting him know a count down of time until the next expected activity helps him. If I don't give him a count down there is much more resistance to changing his activity. He also loves to check off each activity when it is complete. Then he knows what is expected of him for the next time period.

We have also given him an area of the house where he has his own chair and t.v. where he can control for a limited time what he wants to do. We found that giving him a little time to watch tv, play with his toys and do whatever physical activity he wants or needs helps us with his night time routines. After the down time he does whatever homework he didn't finish in after school care. I first wrote in 2010 and I'd like to say that he has improved slowly over time. We have setbacks still. Sometimes to behavior from 2 years before. I figured out that means something is bothering him. Sometimes he can verbalize and sometimes he can't.

We have also found that if he doesn't get 10 hours of sleep than he is what we refer to as "grump grump" in the am. That can send the rest of his day spinning. We have also found someone in our county who has the same SPD issues except the other child also has Down's syndrome. The other mother and I get together and trade ideas that are also in the same school and have been able to help each other with the system. I'd like to report that he is now able to play soccer on a team, he now is able to let us know when he is reaching his end point in some situations. Example: we were at his brother's wedding (16 years between the two.) when we were in line for food, they started some music and he was able to tell me that he needed to get out of that line, it was to much input for him at one time. He got out of the crowd, we did discreet squishes and tight hugging and he was able to go through the whole reception without a melt down. We still have new things that come up, but as he is aging he is becoming more aware of what his needs are, and we try to remember that his requests might not make any sense to us, but we don't have to live in his body and try and understand this complicated world. The older he gets the fewer melt down we have.

So I have written this rater long comment to say experiment with your child. It sometimes is worse before it gets better. I have found some good ideas in books and talking with other parents with the same or similar issues.

Mar 19, 2012
by: Jennifer

i have the same problem with my son behaving perfectly in school and then letting it all out at home. it is BAD! but my question is, what is the solution? how do we improve things? yes, we are not alone, but that doesn't help if there are no answers. that's the road block i'm running into. i don't know how to fix the problem. what kind of exercises/activities should we be doing at home after school and at nite, to give us a semi-peaceful house. right now it's all hitting, screaming, and complete chaos. i would appreciate any advice you have. thank you!

Sep 19, 2011
by: Vee

I just wanted to say thank-you to all of you great mothers of SPD children who have written here and have given me back hope and determination to keep on going.

My son had his first day at the 4th nursery today we've tried, and it didn't go well. I've provided information, books, and even a write-up I made myself of specific needs or behaviours to look out for in him, but the teacher just did NOT get it, and treated it all as bad behaviour. I already feel discouraged.

I have a baby on the way and a 1 and a half year old as well, I'm stressed out to the max daily with his therapies and home schooling, as well as getting him socialised.

I cried today reading the posts, thank-you other moms for sharing your experience and keeping me going!

One day at a time.

Sep 07, 2011
Same issues
by: Anonymous

My child, who is 7, became a completely different child once 1st grade started and started to decline quickly thereafter. Since being home for the summer she is doing amazingly better. The hitting and shouting have stopped completely and she is listening much better. I feel that the 6 hours of full-blown stimulation at school took its toll on her so when she got home she would explode. We have withdrawn her from school this year but are unsure what to do at this point. We were going to home school but she has trouble concentrating for that long on something at home, too much stuff to distract her.

May 01, 2010
Yes and No
by: Anonymous

I see the same things about schools, It all depends on the teacher's willingness to help our kids cope.

My DD;s teacher say that my DD is a delight in school, but quiet.

But on several days, when my DD gets home she "lets it all out". I feel that she is working so hard at school with handling sensory things that when she gets home (her comfort zone) she lets it all out. I can tell that she had an extra stressful school day when she asks to change out of her clothes into her nightgown as soon as she hits the door. If she does not have anything going on after school I let her. Also she will ask to take a bath. This really helps her. Getting homework done on extra stressful days is not fun.

Apr 28, 2010
can school make spd worse
by: Anonymous

I think school can definitely make school worse. My son is 7 and has spd. The times I find that his spd gets worse is when there are changes to the routine at school. This usually occurs around holidays (there are concerts, special parties ect that occur and change the routine) Also, during the spring I see a change in him - schoolwork is starting to get more difficult, routines change up a bit because of the nice weather (recess is outside, or the teacher may decide to have class outside). I have found that a picture schedule works great. He has one on his desk so he knows what is going to happen next. Also is there is going to be a big change in the routine at school his teacher will let me know so I can prepare him. I have found that if he knows what is going to happen ahead of time he does fine.

He has many friends and plays well with the other kids but he also attends a social skills "class" with the school social worker (basically role play on how to handle different situations). He also gets two sensory breaks a day. I have found that the teacher makes all the difference. My son has a very understanding teacher this year and is very accommodating and is constantly coming up with new ideas to help my son be comfortable in school. We have in the past had teachers who just didn't understand and it made for a very difficult year. If the school isn't following a sensory diet your child could be struggling all day long to keep it together. These stresses build until they get home and they know they are safe and can let it out.

Apr 28, 2010
Yes and No
by: Anonymous

My son was diagnosed very early with SPD (around 2 1/2). He has oral defensiveness. He has proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile difficulties. He is now 7 and we notice that he has huge problems with any change. Especially every time he has a growth spurt. We didn't notice this at first because he didn't grow for 2 years. so every time he grows we start all over with his therapy with brushing and squishing and rough play. He has gone through 5 sizes since June. He did wonderfully for the first 3 years in school in the special needs pre-school. When he started kindergarten the problems began. His teacher told us she didn't have time for a child with special needs. We worked through some the resistance with the OT and having the special needs teachers discuss how they dealt with his unique needs.

This year I found a book to give to the teacher that was easy to read "The everything Sensory Processing Disorder Book". I went through and highlighted what his issues were, how they manifest, and some easy things the teacher can do to help. There is a whole section about SPD in the classroom. This year the teacher is more understanding and has been very accepting when we give her ideas on what can be done. We also had in his IEP that if he asked for squishes, jumping time, or if she noticed he was becoming overloaded she could send him to the OT room and he could get squishes or jump on the trampoline to calm himself. The teachers say that he is a jewel in school and he is not a problem. We have decided that he does everything he can to hold it all in during school because he doesn't want to get in trouble. So we have to do massive amounts of therapy when he gets home. So far we have discovered that he tells us he played alone and no one wants to play with him, but his teachers say he plays with other children all the time. We don't know why the discrepancy exists.

I also started talking this year with him about trying to identify when he doesn't feel right. He now comes to us some times and asks for squishes and really tight hugs. He actually is starting to show that he is trying to knowingly self regulate. Last year he didn't understand. This year is a world of difference. Hold on, keep advocating for your child, try some of the books out there and hand them out. I have found that some teachers learn best by reading and others by speaking to them. (I guess they have different learning styles also). I live in a rural area and there aren't many resources here. We had a wonderful OT, and have worked with him in play for many years.

Are there bad days? yes. His grandmother just died last week. We really saw the biggest melt down in probably a year, and we are still working every day to get through his ways of dealing with the stress. This week was tough, but every time it is longer between meltdowns. I hope this helps.

Apr 27, 2010
Educators Play a Role in the effects
by: Anonymous

Educators who need to be educated.

My 13 year old son has SPD which was diagnosed a few years ago. We had an OT etc and it helped a little.. Due to our life and my husbands work, we have to travel alot all over the world. My son now attends a boarding school which he loves, but is very very misunderstood. Constantly being yelled at by teachers, always getting blamed for things and their patience is running out fast!
We decided this was best for him to offer him continuity through his exam years? Changing schools every two years didnt help.

I feel so much that teachers do not want to understand or want to know about children with SPD - I feel like were drowning in a world of 'perfect people' who don't want to know...

Educators must take responsibility to just how much their attitudes to these special bright children have such a negative effect on SPD kids and their families. They are not freaks, just incredible intelligent human beings who are misunderstood. Why should these kids be treated differently from kids with dyslexia????

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to The SPD Q & A.