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SPD is also known as Sensory Integration Dysfunction

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Sensory Integration Tips for Teachers

Kari Shanks Hall, M.A., OTR

Sensory integration is an innate neurobiological process that refers to the interpretation of sensory stimulation from the environment (Ayres, 1979). When a child has a Sensory Processing Disorder, information from the environment and one’s own senses are not organized well in the brain. This results in problems in processing information and behaving appropriately for the task at hand.

The following tips can help children who are oversensitive to light touch and who need movement to stay organized in the classroom. What's wonderful about these ideas is that they work well for all children and help them attend to and process academic information.

General Classroom Organizational Strategies

  • Use graph paper to help organize math problems.

  • Provide lined paper for writing assignments.

  • Provide pencil grippers for children who have trouble using a mature pencil grasp.

  • Remind children to use their non-dominant hand to hold the paper.

  • Adjust chairs and tables to the proper height for each child. (Feet should touch the floor. Table height should be just below the child's elbow when the fist rests under the chin.)

  • Keep visual and auditory distractions to a minimum.

  • If a child presses too hard on the pencil, give him a mechanical pencil.

  • Always present information in the child's best modality. Visual, auditory, or multi-sensory learning activities can facilitate understanding and memory.

Children Who are Oversensitive to Light Touch

Children who are sensitive to light, unexpected touch often prefer firm touch/pressure, which helps organize their behavior. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Approach the child from the front to give a visual cue that light touch is coming.

  • Use firm pressure to the shoulder or back, rather than a gentle hand placement or a brush to the sleeve, arm, or face.

  • Place the child’s desk out of traffic, towards the periphery of the room, so that the child has a good view of who is moving and where they are going.

  • Seat a small child in an adult’s lap or next to a quiet child during a group gathering. Place older children to the side or in back of the group. Crowded places and situations can cause discomfort because of the possibility for unexpected bumps and brushes.

  • Put children "in charge" of the back of the line. The back of the line should not be viewed as a punishment, but as a place of worth.

Children Who Need Sensory Input to Stay on Task

Some children are "sensory seekers" and become more organized and attend better to a task if they receive periodic movement input. Some ideas:

  • Allow a child to sit on a baffled camping pillow filled with a small amount of air. This allows for movement without leaving the desk.

  • Suggest five minutes of swinging or climbing during recess, prior to coming back to class.

  • Suggest some rhythmical, sustained movement (e.g., marching, washing desks, or bouncing), which can be organizing to the central nervous system.

  • Ask the child to erase the blackboard or run notes to other teachers, to allow him to get some extra movement.

  • Use a rocking chair in the classroom for periodic "pick-me-ups."

  • Never discipline a "sensory seeker" by taking away recess privileges or physical education — you will intensify the random movements, fidgeting, and outbursts.

Some children also need extra sensory input to their mouths and hands in order to organize their behavior, such as:

  • Drinking from water bottles kept at desk (send them home weekly to be washed).

  • Chewing on a straw, a coffee stir stick, or rubber tubing placed on the end of a pencil.

  • Fiddling with something in their hands (keep a bucket or fanny pack of "squeezies" handy; a "squeezie" is a small object that is soft and can fit in the hand, such as a balloon filled with flour, a soft ball, a dog toy, or a koosh ball).

  • Hanging by the arms on the monkey bars for 20-30 seconds at a time.

  • Pushing/carrying heavy objects (e.g., carrying books, moving desks, or "pushing" against walls).

  • Carrying a backpack weighted with books or bags of dried beans (this should be worn for only 15-20 minutes at a time, with an hour or two between wearings).

A reading corner with a bean bag chair makes a wonderful place to escape from too much stimulation and get ready for more focused desk work. Children might enjoy reading or sitting under the bean bag chair more than sitting on it.

About the author:

Kari Shanks Hall has been in private practice in Denver, Colorado, for more that a dozen years. She specializes in working with children with Sensory Processing Disorder. She can be reached at 5290 E. Yale Circle, Suite 207, Denver, CO, 80222, or at



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