Category Archives: schools

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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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., affordable sensory items, back to school for sensory kids, backpacks, boys in school, clothing issues, clothing sensitivities, IEP, organizational issues, recess, schools, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, special education, tactile sense, tactile sensitivity, www.luvmum.com

Special Education, School Accommodations, and the 4 Cs

The New York Times has an interesting article on special education accommodations in two highly praised NYC charter schools. Schools that receive federal funding must provide special education services (although a notable exception is the voucher/”choice” program in Milwaukee Public Schools; there is a lawsuit pending because the “choice” isn’t really a “choice” if your child has an IEP–the schools get to cherry pick and they rarely take special ed students). Regardless of where you are able to get your child into school, the accommodations for his disability need to be appropriate for him. One size does not fit all! 

 

How do you work with a school to get the right accommodations for your special education child?  The four Cs: Curiosity, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication.

 

The article talks about two children who are highly distractible. Movement, such as a walk in the hall a few times a day, may be enough for one particular child to stay focused in a classroom of 23 children. For another child, it may not be enough. Also, let’s not forget that with sensory processing disorder, some kids are underaroused and some are overaroused. The underaroused ones may be distracted but very quiet about it–you often find them draped over a chair in the back of the room, picking at their sweaters. The overaroused ones may be distracted and hyperactive–they’re the ones who get into trouble and are more likely to be removed from class. Then too, if a child is gifted, she may be picking up enough information to do well on tests, but underachieving given her talents. How do we address the needs of all students who have learning differences? We start by understanding and respecting those differences. Then we rely on curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and communication, the 4 Cs, in order to alter the learning environment and curriculum to be appropriate for the child.

 

What do curiosity and creativity require? Any brain scientist will tell you that to awaken these qualities that are part of executive function, you have to quiet the limbic brain where you experience fear and anger. Getting angry at a child for not behaving or performing the way you’d like her to shuts down your creativity and sense of optimism and possibility ( which opens you to a sense of curiosity and wonder). On an MRI, you can actually see the blood flow to the front of the brain, where executive function is located, reduced when blood flow increases to the back of the brain and the limbic system, where fear and anger are experienced.

 

What do collaboration and communication require? Emotional intelligence, respect, and good communication skills among all team members. “Mother knows best” or “leave it to the professionals” are attitudes rooted in ego, that is, rooted in the fear that “If I’m not in control, and I’m not seen as THE expert, then I’m a failure.” And what does fear do? Again, it blocks us from our curiosity and creativity. Finding a new way to approach a problem, or a better way to express ourselves, requires executive function, not limbic brain fear. Our kids need us to put aside our egos and make the best possible effort to communicate respectfully and effectively with all members of the team, including the child.

What special education accommodations does your child need? How will you work with the school to ensure they’re provided?

And as our kids get older, they need to be more involved in the decisions regarding their schooling. They need to learn to self-advocate in a socially acceptable way. If a student is assigned a regular seat in September and then, in October, becomes extremely distracted by the construction noise outside the window, and would hear better if he moved seats, will he speak up for himself? Will the teacher notice? Will the parent have any clue? Have we taught our kids to let go of fear, anger, and resentment and use their executive function to become creative (“I could ask to change seats and solve my problem”) and communicative (“I could ask nicely”) within the classroom? Do they have the confidence to express their needs appropriately and collaboratively problem solve?

 

What’s more, we have to remember that we’re the adults and that doesn’t just mean we make the final decisions because we’re the authority figures. It means we have to be bigger people. When a child lashes out verbally, are we being the bigger person when we immediately engage in a power struggle? Or are we being the bigger person when we take a deep breath, observe what’s going on, and use our creativity, curiosity, and collaborative skills to discover the root of the problem and address it?

 

Our kids are complicated, but we make life easier when we take the time to calm our own anxiety, fear, and anger and get curious, creative, collaborative, and communicative. Only then can we find the right accommodations for our special kids.

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., classroom accommodations sensory, exercise and movement for sensory kids, IEP, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, special education

Strategies to Help Kids with SPD or Autism Focus in the Classroom

Here’s a wonderful blogpiece from National Autism Resources on helping kids focus in the classroom CLICK HERE.

It’s fascinating to see how much difference and inflatable cushion or fidgets can make. There’s a Canadian company called Kid Companions that sells chewable jewelry and you can also find nontoxic chewables, and hand fidgets and inflatable cushions, in catalogues such as Southpaw Enterprises.

Wintertime is especially challenging because kids don’t spend as much time outdoors running around and using playground equipment. Encourage your child at recess time to kick a snow or ice pile, carry snow and make snow forts and snow men, and of course, shovel! But then too, check with him or her, the teacher, and the school OT to ensure your child is getting enough sensory diet activities throughout the day to stay focused in the classroom.

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Filed under affordable sensory items, autism and sensory issues, classroom accommodations sensory, heavy work, OT, playground issues, recess, schools, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory seeking

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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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

Today is Backpack Awareness Day: Is your child’s backpack too heavy?

While sensory kids can benefit from wearing a heavy backpack because of the deep pressure input (also known as proprioceptive input) it provides, and certainly proprioceptive input needs to be part of a sensory diet at school, a too-heavy backpack is a problem. Because our kids often have organizational issues, they can end up overloading their backpacks with items they don’t need, causing muscle strain. AOTA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, offers these tips for National Backpack Awareness Day: TIPS.

Keep in mind that a rolling backpack may be your best option.

Backpacks and ruckpacks rule: No more than 15 percent of body weight

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Filed under backpacks, heavy work, organizational issues, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, schools, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder in the news

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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Filed under back to school for sensory kids, recess, schools

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