Sensory Processing Disorders and their effect on children at school

What are Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD)?

Sensory Processing Disorder affects the way that the brain receives and interprets information, and so can have quite an effect on children in school when it comes to making appropriate motor responses to sensory information. SPD can be affected by light, sound, touch or taste and varies in each child, causing over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to any form of sensory stimulation, existing when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organised into appropriate responses.

Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) will often have sensory processing difficulties (SPD) associated with their diagnosis. For example, although ADHD and SPD are different, some studies have shown that as many as 40% of people with SPD or ADHD also show symptoms of both.

Sensory Processing Disorders are more prevalent in children than autism, and as common as ADHD yet the condition receives far less attention because it has not been officially recognised as a distinct disorder. In a recent study from UC San Francisco, researchers found that children with SPD have differences in brain structure, evidence that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Impact and Strategies

Children with a sensory processing disorder may often develop routines or appear to have behavioural difficulties and will typically require support from an occupational therapist with activities designed around sensory integration.

As a teacher or occupational therapist, working with the child to build self-regulation skills can be beneficial for the classroom. Methods such as providing a quiet work space or area to use when needed, such as a pop-up Sensory Pod for sensory exploration, seating the student away from doors, windows, any potentially loud noises and buzzing lights, providing a weighted lap pad or wrap which is designed to give even sensory pressure that will calm the nervous system can all help assist the child into becoming integrated and comfortable in a learning environment.

Handheld fidgets can also be used to help stimulate the mind, such as squidgy balls for tactile play. Creating a behaviour plan is also a good idea to handle sensory triggers. The child can be pre-emptively warned of loud noises such as alarms, bells, and so on. It’s important to give advance warning of routine changes so as not to overwhelm the child, small breaks throughout the day, clear start and end timings for tasks and using visuals for schedules, directions and classroom expectations.

LDA Resources can provide all the SEN resources you need to help children with SPD and ADHD at home and in the classroom.


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