Sensory Needs at School

child_autism_ballWhen working one-on-one with a child and family, I often have the opportunity—and honor—of helping in the child’s classroom. If the school is open to it, I get to come out to the school to observe, intervene when necessary, and provide recommendations to both teachers and parents to help bridge the gap between homes and schools.

When there are sensory challenges, it is very important to incorporate sensory activities into a child’s daily routine to help with focus, attention, on-task skills, academics, communication, and social skills. Many children with autism do not receive Occupational Therapy to work on sensory challenges in school, because it may not have been deemed as educationally relevant by evaluations and the IEP team. However, these same kids have sensory needs and receive OT outside of school. This can sometimes pose a problem for the child. Because generalization is difficult for many children with autism, they may not be able to remember and access the sensory strategies inside school that they have learned in the office of their private OT.

This is why it is essential for parents to share important information with their child’s teacher. When you find a strategy that works outside of school, be sure to share it with the classroom teacher, and if possible, with your child’s IEP team.

Here are some great questions you can ask your child’s OT to help your child in the classroom. If your child does not receive OT in or out of school, but he or she is facing many of the challenges listed below, I provided a few examples of ways your child’s teacher can support your child.

  1. How can I get my child to sit during a lesson? For example, should the teacher use a seat disk, exercise ball, weighted lap pad, pillow, or cushion?
  2. What activities do you recommend before handwriting to make this task easier? Should he work with clothespins, pull objects out of play-dough, pick up small objects with tongs, or do any other hand exercises?
  3. What kinds of sensory breaks can the teacher implement to help my child focus? Should he be encouraged to dance, jump in place, do wall push-ups, or even go for a short walk or run?
  4. What can the teacher do if my child is constantly chewing his shirt or the tops off of pencils? Can we use a chewy pencil-topper, or give him some gum?
  5. What can my child be encouraged to do instead of pinching himself and others? Shouldthe teacher encourage him to squeeze a ball, pinch play-dough, or pull silly putty instead? Should she take some data as to what is going on during this time, to make sure that the pinching isn’t part of a bigger problem?

Sensory challenges can really put a damper on your child’s day, both in school and at home. However, by working together with your child’s teacher, life can be easier for everyone.

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