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Distance Learning: Sensory Supports

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

This post is the second part of our Schooling at Home series. To see all posts in this series, click here.


Schooling a child in the home provides opportunities for creative and unique sensory tools, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. While every child can benefit from sensory input being incorporated into the educational setting, it’s first important to consider if your child has any specific sensory needs. Need some help determining those? Head over to our Sensory Simplified blog post.


Sensitive Students (Over-Responders)


Because it is often hard for these little ones to filter out what’s important to attend to and what’s not, you’ll want to make sure the environment is distraction-free and easy to stay focused in.


Lights

Consider softer lighting as this is less likely to irritate sensitive eyes. Make sure workspace is well lit and decrease chances for glare by using non-overhead lighting (i.e. task lighting or accent lighting) Experiment with different lighting for your child’s workspace. Be conscious of any potential distractions if you're welcoming in natural light from the window.


Sounds


Decrease extraneous sound that may impede focus (i.e. ticking clocks, the television, or noisy windows). You may find that a neutral background noise, such as white noise, works well for your child. You can pull up a playlist on Spotify, or check out something like this one here.


Some little ones may find it helpful to wear noise canceling headphones when trying to work, read, or regulate. If you’re looking for a set for an older child, check out these recommended by National Autism Resources.


Decor


Especially if you weren’t planning on home schooling this year (thanks 2020), you may not be sure of the best way to set up a home classroom. While it may be tempting to turn that recently unused dining room into a Pinterest-worthy DIY classroom, be sure to consider what could be visually overstimulating for children. You’ll want to stay simple and as clutter-free as possible, making sure only the important things stand out.


Low Arousal Students (Passive-Underresponders)


If you’re homeschooling your child who tends to be a sensory under-responder, you may anticipate finding him slumped in his seat and rarely responding to you - resulting in wondering if you have yourself accidentally on mute. Because these children have a sensory threshold that is so high, it takes a lot more stimulation to keep them at a level of arousal where learning can be achieved. Let’s take a look at how we might do this.


Movement


When structuring your day, be sure to include movement breaks or activities that provide the child an outlet for energy or a way to increase flow and focus. Movement will help to engage several sensory systems and can increase arousal.


Arousing movement-based activities might include swinging, bouncing on a yoga ball, or giving your child an opportunity to retrieve or collect materials from around the house. Activities like upside down bowling, log rolling or somersaults invert the head and are extremely alerting. Always keep an eye on your child for averse signs to sensory input, and consult with your child's therapist to find a sensory program that's right for your child.


Seating


Consider using a wiggle cushion or a yoga ball as a seat as this provides more dynamic input during seated tasks which can help increase their state of arousal.


Multi-sensory Teaching


Lessons will be more effective if more than one sense is engaged. Try working on handwriting by writing letters in shaving cream, make up a song to help learn shapes, or turn the lights off and use flashlights to work on matching items.



Climbing-The-Walls Students (Active-Underresponders)


Curious how the best way to get your child to stop climbing the walls and sit to do their work? Remember that these kiddos are constantly seeking out input that engages their sensory systems. You may notice, however, the more input they get, the less regulated they appear. The key is to make sure they are receiving sensory input in a structured and meaningful way. Spinning in circles for 5 minutes may not achieve this, but engaging in something such as jumping jacks while working on counting may.


Breaks


If a child is unable to sit still, they are most likely not going to be taking in any of the information you are trying to teach them. Giving your child an opportunity to fit in movement throughout the day by building in breaks can be a helpful tool.


Be flexible and allow breaks as needed. Worry that your child might abuse this privilege? Place some break cards in sight that they can turn in when they truly need one, knowing they have a limited amount. Breaks are most useful when they involve rich sensory input such as heavy work.


It may be helpful to provide sensory break choices along with a timer, to keep that structure. The expectation should be clear that when the timer is up, they are expected to return to their learning area.


Check out our blog on breaks for more info.


Fidget Tools


Note the key word, here: tools. Fidgets can be helpful when used as a tool, but too often are they misused and become a toy. Make sure to set the expectation that these are to be used to help focus, and if they become distracting and are instead impeding the learning process, they are no longer a choice.


Environment


Similar to our over-responders, it’s helpful to keep the learning environment simple and intentional. Assume anything can be a distraction. Consider using task boxes to separate and organize activities for younger children, or utilize folders for older kids. Keep activities predictable and expectations clear.


Most importantly, remember that flexibility is key. As you continue to gain experience with schooling at home, you may need to reconfigure the schedule or structure to accommodate their needs.


The best way to determine your child’s specific sensory needs is to have a comprehensive occupational therapy evaluation. If you are seeking individualized support, click here to request a free 15 minute consultation with a licensed occupational therapist.


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