Ways in which Sensory Processing Issues affect kids in School
Some kids may have trouble handling the information their senses take in – things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. Apart from this, there are also two other less well-known senses that can be affected – the first is a sense of body awareness, while the second involves movement, balance, and coordination. This may indicate sensory processing issues.
Children with sensory issues can be oversensitive or undersensitive to input, or both. While sensory processing issues are not a learning disorder or official diagnosis, they can make it hard for children to succeed at school.
Overly Sensitive Kids
Overly sensitive kids respond easily to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming. They may:
- Be unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises like ambulance sirens
- Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or irritating-even after cutting out all the tags and labels
- Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
- Be fearful of surprise touch, and avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
- Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
- Often have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people
- Bump into people and things, and appear clumsy
- Have trouble sensing the amount of force they’re applying; for example, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam down objects
- Run off, or bolt, when they’re overwhelmed to get away from whatever is distressing them
- Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed
Under sensitive Kids
Under sensitive kids want to seek out more sensory stimulation. They may:
- Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it’s not socially acceptable
- Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it
- Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
- Not understand their own strength
- Be very fidgety and unable to sit still
- Love jumping, bumping and crashing activities
- Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs
- Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
- Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines
These behaviors can be confused as negative behaviors among school-going children. What looks like hyperactivity is in fact them seeking input. Many of the behaviors of kids with sensory problems overlap with symptoms of ADHD - from trouble sitting still or concentrating, to melting down when they are expected to make a transition from activity to another.
There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues, but there are therapies and practical changes you can make at school and home to help your child feel and do better. Occupational therapists are the specialists who work with kids with sensory issues. They engage kids in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input. You can meet them to discuss changes that you can make to help kids be more comfortable, secure and focused in the classroom.