Determining If Sensory Processing Interferes With Learning

Learning in the classroom may be difficult for children who experience differences in how the brain perceives sensory information such as touch, sight, taste, sound, smell, body awareness and movement. A child’s behavior in the classroom may appear that their attention is very short for a lesson and get out of their seat or look around and talk to other children. They may get in other children’s personal space or become upset if accidentally touched by other children during moments when there is active movement in the classroom. The lighting may be too intense or the noise level of the room may become too loud. When a child frequently cannot engage in the activities and interactions of the school environment it is a cause for concern.

Everybody has preferences in how to keep themselves in a “working” mode for their jobs. What we as adults may do to make changes for ourselves when uncomfortable or keeping alert within the environment is guided by what’s considered appropriate manners. We may chew gum, tap our fingers or bounce our heels to move within our space. We may need some background music or have a fish tank to chill the stress of the day. Children may not be aware of specific ways to communicate their needs. In problem solving the issue of needing more movement or avoiding what’s irritating, children may make behavioral choices that the teacher may misunderstand as disrespectful. A child may be attempting to make their own modifications if he or she has sensory processing differences. It is important that the teacher communiate with parents when a child is continuing to make behavioral choices that are disruptive to their learning and the learning of others. Even if a child has not had academic delays, it is important that the teacher ask the school’s occupational therapist (with the parent’s knowledge) for a screening to check for possible sensory processing differences.

Sensory processing differences can be identified through parent and teacher questionnaires given by the occupational therapist in addition to an observation. There are classroom accommodations that can be attempted to assist a child who has sensory processing differences. Sometimes, special equipment can be used or the occupational therapist can work with the teacher to incorporate activities throughout the day to provide a movement boost in an acceptable manner for a child. The activities can be helpful for all students since research has shown that more movement is needed to help learning. In future articles, I will share tips that can help in the classroom to increase attention and reduce stress.

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