Too Loud, too soft, too sticky, too hard, Just Right
“Why does my child do….” As a teacher of children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders, this is a question I get asked a lot. In many of the examples the parents give me, 80% of the questions have to do with meeting their child’s sensory needs. As a teacher work hand in hand with a team of Occupational Therapists, and I integrate many sensory activities into my teaching. I work with my students and my family members who have personal sensory diets. I use many sensory adjustments while teaching a lesson: looking at their body language and if they appear sleepy we get up and do some quick jumps. If I see they have a lot of energy or running high, we incorporate heavy work (chair push-ups, lifting heavy books etc). When it is time to transition, 5 minute warnings, are given verbally, visually, so that they can predict the next activity and give themselves time to wind down from the current activity. Using prompting, reading the needs of the children comes from learning about my own children’s sensory needs and what helps them to keep calm and to “carry on.”
What are some of the needs of students? Here is a quick checklist of what some of my students struggle with:
sensitive to stimulation, and overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etceasily distracted in the classroom
often out of his/her seat, fidgety says they need lots of bathroom breaks
are easily overwhelmed at the playground, during recess and in class.
slow to perform tasks; it looks like they are daydreaming,
didn’t hear you, or look like they didn’t understand you
has difficulty performing or avoids fine motor tasks such as handwriting, typing, cutting,
opening packagesappears clumsy and stumbles often,
slouches in chair has trouble keeping their core supported
Craves high activity like falling, wrestling, rough housing
Hesitate to learn new physical movements whether they are simple like running or complex like skipping
Student is in constant motion
Prefers sedentary activitiesHas challenges changing from one task to another.
I will list a few examples of my own children’s needs and what we do to help them to keep calm, organized, or alert themselves.
Margaret: She like full body input. For example, she needs deep pressure hugs and deep squeezes to help calm her and keep her feeling “just right”. She also needs oral input and she gets that from chewing gum—mint gum. It calms her and keeps her from whining. She has difficulty in loud situations and with sudden loud noises, however she is one of my loudest kiddos. She uses her loud noises to drown out the other noises around her. How this looks is that she loves to sing loud, hum as she works, and talk with an outside voice. She loves leggings and tight hugging clothes.
Isaac: He seeks full body deep pressure input. He loves to jump on the trampoline, flip, fly, fall off from high places, and is in constant motion. He hates to be touched with a light touch; he flinches and pulls back. Full deep squeezes and crushing wrestling hugs is what he seeks. It looks like he is training to be a stunt guy for Hollywood, and that he is very twitchy. He struggles with reading (focus) and with small motor movement. He worked with an OT for 6 years to help him with his hand writing, and with self regulation strategies so that he could manage and focus at school. He hates jeans and tags give him fits.
Garrett: Garrett seeks quiet places, low light, soft music, big movement, but not the same as Isaac. He wears Headphones for loud places, and he love to have his back, arms, and legs scratched. He loves light and soft touch by only 4 people who he trusts. He does not like to be touched by strangers—he says that it “zaps” him. Garrett loves long underwear and soft fleece, but struggles with jeans. They are too rough. He hates tags on clothing as well.
Kellis: He struggles with textures on his fingers and hands. Dry, wet, grainy textures drive him bonkers. For example if he takes a shower and his hands have soaked in the water for a long time and then he dries them off and tries to touch paper the sensation is overwhelming. Now it might seem silly, but think if you wash your hands and then have to start reading a book or writing and you are not able to hold the book because it feels like glass is slicing your fingers, school can be a challenge. Hand sanitizer thankfully feels different to his fingers so he uses that during the school day. He prefers to wear shorts, and dislikes pants, but can tolerate then for a certain amount of time.
Virginia: She has difficulty in loud situations and with sudden loud noises. She is one of the first to cover her ears and hide her head. She has difficulty in keeping her body from banging into objects and into others. She looks a little clumsy, but with the help of some exercises that crosses the midline, she is able to better organize herself and control her body.
April Rose, "Rosie": She struggles with light touch, lack of transition, and can become shut down quickly if routines are interrupted. She loves heavy work and jumps/ hops to give herself feedback. Heavy blankets, weighted vests, life jackets help her to better regulate her body's needs. She needs visual reminders of 5 mins left to help her finish the current activity.
Sensory needs are real. Helping our kiddos, teenagers, and adults to handle these sensory needs helps them to be more fully functioning throughout their day. Here are some links to other articles and websites that can give you more information about some of these needs:
Remember that each child is individual and might need different strategies to help. There is help out there. Please contact if you need any further help