How Will My Child’s Sensory Processing Disorder Affect Their Learning?
We receive and process sensory information though our seven senses; sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste, balance and body awareness, but for some children there are certain lights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, movements and body positions that can create a feeling of sensory overload, which can make them feel overwhelmed, anxious and upset.
Hypersensitivity (sensory avoiding) and hyposensitivity (sensory seeking) are the two types of sensory processing difficulties and most children experience a mixture of the two: While sensory processing issues are not a learning disorder or even an ‘official’ diagnosis, these difficulties can make it very hard for children to settle and succeed at school.
Sensory avoiding children can find sensory stimulation 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, or shoes because they feel “too tight.”
- 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
- Have a restricted diet and be very unwilling to try ‘new’ foods
- 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 using an eraser, 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
Sensory seeking children, on the other hand, crave more sensory stimulation. They may:
- Have a constant need to touch people or things, even when it’s not socially acceptable
- Not understand personal space, even when others the same age understand it
- Have a 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 or intense movement
- Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines.
Many of these behaviours overlap with the symptoms of ADHD, from trouble sitting still, to melting down when they are expected to change activity, and these processing difficulties can make coping in a school environment extremely hard: The hustle and bustle of the classroom, messy play, the overcrowded dinner hall, the playground – it’s easy to see how these can all lead to a child feeling anxious about going to school.
There is no medication to treat sensory processing issues, but there are coping strategies and therapies, as well as practical changes you can make at school and home to help your child feel and do better. At the MSTC we can help by engaging your child in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input, by creating a programme of exercises for you to do at home and by offering tips and tricks that you can discuss with your child’s teacher, to help them feel more secure and able to focus.
With your support and our strategies children with sensory processing disorders can be successful in class, on the playground and with friends.
If you and your child with sensory processing disorder need some support, or you would like to find out more about how we can help, get in touch!
Call us on 01206 911974