Category Archives: books on SPD

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,, 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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Filed under anxiety, auditory processing disorders, autism and sensory issues, back to school for sensory kids, books on SPD, boys in school, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, sensory seeking, SPD and auditory, special education

GIVEAWAY of Raising a Sensory Smart Child!

I’m in a giveaway mood! Two random subscribers to Sensory Smart News will each receive a FREE copy of the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. If you haven’t signed up, go to and sign up before Dec. 10 when the lucky winners will be chosen!

Hurry! Contest ends December 10, 2010!

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New to SPD? First Order of Business: BREATHE

I absolutely loved Hartley Steiner’s blogpiece on what you need to do once you learn your child has sensory processing disorder. Over the years on the many online support group forums I’ve read, I’ve noticed that the typical chain of events is that the parent

1) knows something’s “off” or wrong,

2) seeks help,

3) gets told by well-meaning people that she’s “worrying too much” and second-guesses herself,

4) eventually comes across a description of SPD and thinks, oh wow, THAT is the missing piece,

5) stands there stunned, upset that there really IS something wrong, thrilled that she finally has some answers, confused by what to do next, sad because her illusion that her kid has no problems after all has just been shattered.


I always say that first, just take a deep breath and recognize that you are more empowered now than you were yesterday. You have more knowledge, and you’re going to build upon it. Your child is already benefitting from your hard work and diligence in finding answers. If you simply start there, feeling good about what you’ve already done to help your child, the fear starts to dissipate.

Know that there is a LOT of support. People can be incredibly generous in sharing ideas, giving feedback, and offering encouragement. If you can, join an in person support group for parents of kids with SPD (try The SPD Foundation’s Parent Connections). If not, join an online support group such as the ones through (SID_DSI_AllAboutKids, sensoryintegrationgroup, sensoryintegrationdysfunction, and SID_DSI). Heck, do both!

There are so many resources out there–don’t get overwhelmed. Learn just a little each day. Poke around my website,, and check my award-winning book, Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues, coauthored with Lindsey Biel, OTR/L. Don’t feel pressured to become an expert overnight or “inhale” every book on the topic (as I did years ago–talk about information overload!). Focus on what’s most important to you: Your child’s tantrums in public or school? Her picky eating? Bedtime battles? As you start to implement some practical solutions (there’s a HUGE section on them in my book and lots of info on my site as well), you’ll start to realize you really can help your child with her sensory issues. And I promise, it gets much better!


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Filed under books on SPD, online support groups, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder diagnosis

Pick up a copy of the newly revised Raising a Sensory Smart Child, cheap

For a limited time, is selling slightly damaged copies of Raising a Sensory Smart Child (the revised and updated version) for cheap. If you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself or perhaps for your child’s teacher or caretaker, you might want to act now. I’m told these have “shelf ware” or slightly bent or soiled paperback covers–nothing that would make it difficult to actually read the book.

Meanwhile, pristine copies are available too! You might want to pick one up in your local bookstore on the Special Needs parenting shelf.

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Raising a Sensory Smart Child Giveaway and Interview with Nancy Peske

I was just interviewed at the Welcome to Normal blog about how the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, which I coauthored, came about, and how I came to be involved in advocating for kids with SPD. If you comment on their blog, you have a chance to win a free copy of the revised and updated edition of Raising a Sensory Smart Child (blue cover). Check it out!

Win a free copy of the revised and updated Raising a Sensory Smart Child! Hurry!

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Informative piece on SPD

Here is another wonderful news piece on SPD, this one featuring mom Hartley Steiner, author of This is Gabriel Making Sense of School. I am hoping that the more coverage we get on sensory processing disorder, the sooner these kids will get the help they need! Apparently, the legitimacy of being considered for inclusion in the DSM-V which identifies (and provides diagnosis codes for) psychological diagnoses has finally caused SPD to grab the attention of the media. About time! 🙂

I love her description of OT for sensory issues as “the difference between my family functioning or not functioning”! We are NOT talking about mild sensory preferences or sensitivities but full-fledged sensory processing disorder where sensory issues interfere with activities of daily living and require intervention.

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Filed under books on SPD, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder in the news, sensory processing disorder symptoms