Category Archives: back to school for sensory kids

Writing Without Handwriting: Tips for Kids with Sensory Issues Who Resist Writing

 My most recent edition of the Sensory Smart News garnered more positive feedback than any newsletter I’ve written since the Sensory Smart News began (if you haven’t subscribed yet to this monthly newsletter of practical tips for parents, teachers, caretakers, and professionals who want to help sensory kids, you can do so at www.sensorysmartnews.com) Until I get a chance to put it up on my website, www.sensorysmartparent.com I thought I’d reprint it here.

The Sensory Smart Tip: Recognize that handwriting and writing are two different skills, and focus on composing separately.

Developing handwriting skills, and handwriting at length, is often difficult for kids with sensory processing disorder. There are many issues involved in handwriting, including memory, language processing, posture, muscle tone, body awareness, tactile issues, and so on. If your child is having difficulty handwriting, get it evaluated by a sensory smart OT. Once you are able to identify which issues are at play, you and the OT can work on those with your child. I will do a future newsletter on the sensory piece of handwriting. For now, let’s look at the composing aspect of writing for school.

When you separate out composing from handwriting, it can greatly help a child who has uneven skills. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing what you want to say and not being able to get it down on paper with a pencil, unless it’s not knowing what to say and having handwriting problems to boot! As a professional writer and editor, I am very much aware that too often, we mush together the many different elements of writing and editing, which can intimidate and confuse a novice writer. There’s really no reason for it. After all, in the olden days when I was a secretary, my bosses regularly composed their letters via dictation, and I used a Dictaphone or Gregg shorthand to record what they were saying. Bestselling romance novelist Barbara Cartland composed all her books by dictating them to a secretary.

Here are some tips to help your child with SPD approach the composing aspect of writing without becoming anxious and frustrated.

1. Use technology for composing. Provide, or have your child’s school provide, assistive technology such a keyboard, iPad, or dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (R). It takes time to train such software, and some kids may find it too frustrating to make connections, so you may want to try it before committing to using it.

2. Use old-fashioned dictation. Your child can dictate his book report to you or someone else while you type it. You can record it on your smart phone, a low tech tape recorder, or other technology, then play it back and type it out for her.

3. Have her write freely for a few minutes for practice. Have your child sit and write anything she wants, using handwriting or a keyboard. This will encourage self-expression. Praise her for the effort and don’t make corrections. Let her get used to the idea that she actually can compose her thoughts and “write.” If she’s stumped on a topic, provide a simple one, and reward her for writing anything on the subject. If she’s very anxious, start small, free writing for as little as one minute.

4. Encourage composing letters and messages that are short form. A child who composes emails to his cousins and scrawls funny little messages to mom and dad on the family blackboard will have an easier time approaching a larger writing task than a child who rarely practices expressing himself through writing.

5. Focus first on ideas and how they’re related to each other. Visual mapping using bubbles, or Inspiration software which allows you to do this easily on a computer, works well for some kids. Other kids need to talk them through with a parent or teacher before starting the process of writing.

6. Focus next on the organization of ideas and sentences. Kids with sensory issues often have a very hard time with organizing time, possessions, and their thoughts. They also may not realize that a report or letter should have a beginning, middle, and end, or that a sentence has certain elements that make it a complete sentence. Focus on these elements of composition before looking at the mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. It will help your child better understand the craft of writing as composing and take away the pressure of having to remember all those visual pieces that are involved in writing on paper or on the screen (such as capital versus small letters).

7. When working with a computer, let her pick the font and its size. Crazy though it may sound, some kids with visual issues may have an easier time composing on a computer screen, using a keyboard, if they can choose a font that is appealing to them visually. You can always change it later before printing it. Your child with visual issues may need the type to be very small or very large, or find that the letters are easier for her to read in a font that you personally find too “out there.” Consider adjusting the computer screen too to reduce glare and provide more or less contrast. In our focus on handwriting and its sensory issues, we can forget there are sensory issues with computer screens and devices, too!

8. Teach your child that editing can come later. Most of us edit as we write to some degree but an anxious child can get too caught up in “getting it perfect” right away. Teach your child that even the greatest writers go through multiple drafts of what they write, and focusing on the ideas and how they’re expressed is the first step of editing. Yes, if she notices she forgot to capitalize the first letter in the beginning of a sentence, or misspelled a word, she can correct that, but that’s not what she should be looking for until she’s made certain the ideas are expressed the way she wants them to be. Reading the composition out loud can be extremely helpful.

Handwriting and writing (composing) are two separate skills. When they're mushed together, kids with sensory processing disorder, autism, ADHD, organizational issues, and language processing difficulties can become overwhelmed.

9. Work on spelling separately. You may notice your child’s spelling is better when handwriting is not involved because by not focusing on the handwriting element, he frees himself up to pay closer attention to his spelling. Experiment with having him dictate how to spell the words, or keyboard them. Have him go over spelling words by keyboarding them or spelling them aloud—perhaps while walking in a circle, spinning on an office chair or Dizzy Disc Jr.(r), or jumping on a mini trampoline. Some kids find that learning word roots is very helpful with spelling.

10. Keep the atmosophere positive as you break down the task. Whenever your child expresses anxiety about a large task, stay positive and break down the large task into smaller tasks. As they say, every great journey starts with one small step!

Two books that can help your child by providing writing prompts are 350 Fabulous Writing Prompts, for 4th through 8th graders, and 500 Writing Prompts for Kids: First Through Fifth Grade

My middle school age son has also been enjoying handwriting his thoughts in Diary of A Wimpy Kid Do It Yourself Book.

Just a reminder: If you place your Amazon.com order through the links on my site, such as by clicking on the jacket for Raising a Sensory Smart Child that appears on every page, I get a small commission that helps me fund hosting fees and my newsletter fees. Thanks!

 

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Filed under back to school for sensory kids, classroom accommodations sensory, handwriting, language processing disorders, organizational issues, rigid thinking, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, special education, teenagers and sensory issues

Help Your Sensory Child Get Ready for the School Year

Many kids have already started the new school year. I know many of you are nervous about the changes this year. Be sure to pull that copy of RAISING A SENSORY SMART CHILD off your shelf (and pick up a copy for yourself–even for your child’s teacher!) and do take a look at our chapters on advocating for your child at school, organizational issues, and practical solutions for everyday problems. The book is chock full of practical strategies that I know you’ll find invaluable! It will help you set up a sensory diet for your child, with or without the help of an occupational therapist.

Do you have back to school rituals you share with your child? Do you write a letter to her teacher, or teachers? I’d love to know what you do to help ease this BIG transition each fall for your child with sensory processing disorder.

HELP YOUR SENSORY CHILD GET READY FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR

“Back to school” traditionally means buying fall clothing and school supplies, but there are other equally, if not more, important ways to get your child with sensory issues ready for the new school year.

Prepare your child with information. Sensory kids deal with so much unpredictability in the sensations they experience everyday that they tend to become more anxious about transitions than they would if they didn’t have sensory issues. Your sensory child may have countless questions about the upcoming school year: What will her classroom and teacher be like? Will her best friend be in class with her? What will be the lunch menu the first day? Will she sit by the window? Be patient and understand that the more information she has, the less stressed out and anxious she’ll be. Try to arrange to have her meet her teacher and explore her classroom (and the new school, if she’s changing schools) before school begins.

Prepare her teachers and her special education team, if she has one, for her special needs. Although many kids with sensory issues have IEPs, a new teacher who reads it is not going to take in a full picture of what your child’s special needs are when she hasn’t even put a name to a face for any of her students yet. Consider writing a short, upbeat letter to her new classroom teacher explaining what some of her challenges are, what accommodations work for her, and how well your child articulates her needs, self-advocates, and regulates her system. Can she respond to a verbal warning to “settle down,” or does she need to be reminded to use a specific self-calming technique that works for her? Be sure to keep your letter positive, helpful, and optimistic.

Back to school can be a tough transition for children with sensory processing issues, but there ARE ways to ease the transition.

Prepare him with supplies that work for him. Kids with sensory issues often are very disorganized and need someone to set up and teach them how to use organizational systems for managing their homework and school papers. If your school has a specific assignment notebook students are to use, and systems your child is expected to master right away, it’s best to know ahead of time. Attend parent orientation and consider talking to his teacher before school begins to be sure he’s able to begin using the new system right away without too many bumps in the road. Be sure, too, that he’s given plenty of time and leeway to master the organizational system (no punishments for losing assignments when he’s getting used to a new system!). It will take extra time and patience to figure out why he’s losing papers or forgetting to do assignments. Ask the teacher if you can have your child check in with her at the beginning and end of the day to be sure all necessary materials are where they need to be. Make use of backpacks and folders with many pockets but be sure your child is consistent in using those pockets. It’s helpful for your child to know his snack is always on the outside pocket of his backpack and his homework to be handed in is always in the same folder pocket.

Prepare him with clothes that work for him. Many sensory kids find it difficult to transition from summer clothing into fall clothing, and from favorite summer clothes to school clothing or school uniforms. Be patient, be willing to launder new clothing multiple times to make it softer, and be accepting of his need to wear shorts and sandals longer than the other kids do as autumn arrives. Check these the online stores for soft clothing options that may work for your child:

www.luvmum.com

www.tereskids.com

www.hannaandersson.com

www.smartknitkids.com

www.ezsox.com

Get involved in helping your sensory child get organized EARLY. Don’t wait until the homework notices start arriving!

 

More quick tips for helping your sensory child at school, especially for teachers: www.sensorysmartparent.com

Buying anything this from Amazon and its affiliates such as Drugstore dot com? Please consider buying it through http://www.sensorysmartparent.com (click on the copy of Raising a Sensory Smart Child and you’ll be at Amazon’s site) or VIA THIS LINK to help offset the costs of the Sensory Smart News and the Sensory Smart Parent website! Thank you for your support!

 


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60 first graders, 4 teachers, one open classroom = Sensory Hell

Do I laugh or cry at the misguided professionals who borrowed an idea from an elite private prep school to create a overpopulated first-grade classroom  for public school children, a group that includes kids with sensory processing issues?  According to the New York Times article, the class is held in an open area with 60 first graders and 4 teachers who can all hear and see what’s going on with the other groups. Transitions that involve a change of activity and moving the children to a different part of the room are a nightmare, which is frustrating for the teaching team.

Up to ten percent of children have sensory processing differences that make everyday sensations such as background noise or visual clutter incredibly intense experiences that are difficult for the brain to process, distracting, and anxiety provoking. Although we can be grateful our own kids aren’t in the sensory hell of 60 kids, 4 teachers, no walls, this story is a good reminder of how important it is to be aware of how sensory kids experience auditory and visual clutter.

Neurotypical people and children have the ability to automatically “turn down the volume” on sensory input that isn’t important and “turn up the volume” (that is, pay attention to) priority sensory input. Neurotypical children can usually tune out the sound of a truck rolling by a classroom, a dog barking outside, a chair scraping as someone pulls it out, or the squeak of a marker on a whiteboard isn’t important noise–unless they’re bored or antsy because they’re hungry or tired of sitting. However, most of the time they probably won’t notice the sound or, if they do, they automatically know it’s unimportant and they don’t instantly break their focus. Of course, younger children do get distracted by sounds they find especially interesting–the sound of money jangling in a bag, described in the article, would probably excite a six-year-old eager to see how much money it is. The sound of a dog barking outside a classroom door might elicit excitement (“Ooo, there’s a doggie in the building? Can I see him? Can I pet him?) or anxiety (“Oh no, a dog. I’m scared! My aunt’s dog bit me once!”).

Imagine, though, that your brain simply can’t block out the sound of children’s feet as they move across the room, or the teacher talking to a different class. Imagine that your brain is taking in the sight of 60 kids all moving, some of them moving suddenly, or bursting into giggles that pierce your ears because of your auditory sensitivities. Your brain can’t process all this information quickly enough and some of it is being processed as danger signals. Sudden high-pitched sound? Sudden movement to your right? Your body responds with panic: the fight or flight response. You start chewing your fingertips and rocking, shutting down and not hearing the teacher’s instructions. You feel yourself getting agitated, and when another child moves too close to you, you take a swing at her. You feel yourself so excited by all the stimulation that you start hand flapping and making silly noises–which the other kids laugh at, which makes you more excited, so you start bopping your head side to side and rolling on the ground. Fight, flight, sensory overload–these are not responses that will help you learn in this environment. And if you have poor self-regulation, which many sensory kids have much longer than neurotypical children do, you’re not going to come back to a calm and alert state simply because the teacher says, “Tommy, calm down now.”

Does this sound familiar? Are you seeing these behaviors and situations in a classroom of just 20-25 kids? If there’s a child with SPD in that classroom, and statistics tell us there is, the answer is “absolutely.”

So what’s a parent or teacher to do?

In general, kids with sensory issues function better in smaller classrooms because of the lower amount of stimulation. Any time you can reduce sensory stimulation and sudden transitions, it will be easier for all children, but especially those with sensory processing differences, to focus and remain calm and alert. Many parents have found that having their child with SPD in a private school classroom with 8 children is more supportive of him than a public school classroom with 30 children, but then there’s the issue of can you get special educational services (such as OT for sensory issues) paid for by the school district if your child is in private school? It’s very difficult.

Small private school classroom but no services, large public school classroom but services, including in-class services? It’s a tough call for many parents. Whatever choices you have before you, do check out the information on my website, SensorySmartParent.com, about helping your child at school (start HERE) and the chapter on Advocating for Your Child at School in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. There are MANY ways to make classrooms more user friendly for children with sensory processing issues, and many of the accommodations are simple, low cost, or no cost. You can begin to set up a sensory diet for your child today (hopefully, with the help of a sensory smart OT). No child should be put in “sensory hell.”

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Dear Teacher, Let Me Introduce My Child

Although IEPs provide a quick snapshot of the kinds of issues our kids are dealing with in school, they’re the equivalent of a fuzzy, low resolution shot of just a portion of their face. They just don’t capture how your child functions in a classroom, during recess and lunch, or in gym class. That’s why it’s a great idea to introduce your child to her new teacher each year with a letter that fleshes out that picture.

Start with introducing yourself and provide an upbeat description of your wonderful child.

Note that you’re writing in order to make the teacher’s job of getting to know, and help, and educate, your child easier.

List your child’s diagnoses and describe the challenges she faces in the classroom due to her issues. Describe some behaviors the teacher might see and think are problematic. You don’t have to anticipate everything but try to think of the most common problems your child has experienced in the past. For instance, you might note that your daughter typically chews on her hair, zones out when there’s a lot of auditory stimulaton, gets hyper at recess and has trouble calming down when she gets back to class, or doesn’t raise her hand or participat in discussion because she’s afraid that if she’s called on she’ll take so long processing his answer that the kids will laugh at her, and so on. Describe interventions and accommodations that have worked. Note if they’ve been included in the IEP or on a 504 plan.

End on a positive note and make sure to let the teacher know you are working to help your child with her issues and teach her to address them on her own in appropriate ways.
Offer your contact information and availability and invite her to discuss these issues at any time. Let her know you’ll be at parent orientation and conferences. Teachers like to know that you recognize it’s not their job to “fix” your child, and that you’re actively involved in helping your child–especially in helping her to take responsibility for her needs.

Do you want to educate your child’s teacher on sensory issues? Do invite her to the sensorysmartparent.com site and point out the special note to teachers

Remember that teachers are super busy this time of year, but your child is also busy trying to transition to a new classroom, new teacher, new group of kids, and perhaps a new school. Easing that transition by opening up communication before there’s a problem can be incredibly helpful for everybody.

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Back to School sensory diet ideas

Today’s newsletter, which I’ll archive very soon, is about back-to-school sensory diet activities that involve proprioceptive input and what’s called “heavy work” (think pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, and climbing). Of course, a sensory diet at school has to be tailored to the individual child and should include activities for oral and tactile input, withdrawal from stimulation, and other elements. Ideally, you’ve got access to a sensory smart OT to help you design it and cooperative teachers, administrators, and cafeteria and playground supervisors to help the child implement it. In my newsletter I’ll talk about how to help ensure that happens.

Meanwhile, I just had to share a link to Hartley Steiner’s blogpiece on the sensory diet at school that was set up for her son Gabriel who is not a sensory seeker and yet, like all kids with SPD, needs sensory input throughout the day to stay regulated and be able to focus well. I urge you to take a few minutes to read her extremely helpful description of a sample sensory diet.

One suggestion she made is to involve the child in janitorial type activities. I think this is a fabulous idea because first, of course, it gives the child needed input. Second, it helps the child feel good about himself because he’s able to contribute to the school in a very real way. I would love to see more schools implement groups like the old “AV clubs” where certain kids took on the responsibility of moving AV equipment around (I’m old enough to remember big black and white TVs with rabbit ears on metal carts). I think it’s a good thing to have kids feel connected to their school and be able to take pride in their contribution–and as I say, it makes for really helpful sensory input.

What sorts of activities does your child do at school as part of her sensory diet? Do share!

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Filed under back to school for sensory kids, boys in school, exercise and movement for sensory kids, Moms of kids with SPD, playground issues, schools, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder