If you have a child that seems fussy about clothes, noises, food textures or tastes, active environments, bright lights, etc., you may have a child who has Sensory Integration issues. The NIH defines Sensory Integration as “The involuntary process by which the brain assembles a picture of our environment at each moment in time using information from all of our senses. Children with learning disabilities or autism have difficulties with sensory integration.”
On a practical level, that means your child can have difficulty coping with various stimuli that come to him from the environment he is in. For children with Sensory Integration issues, coping with a traditional school environment can be very difficult. There are bright lights, lots of movement from all of the people, visual input everywhere, and lots of noises that can overwhelm the senses of the child making it nearly impossible for him to process everything he is experiencing. When the environment itself is overwhelming, it goes without saying that learning can be significantly hampered in a traditional school.
As a parent, what can you do? The first step is to arm yourself with knowledge about sensory integration disorder. You can watch this video for a clearer understanding of Sensory Processing Disorder:
If you need or want to know more about SPD, you might want to buy one of these books or see if your library has them:
After you’ve acquired a better understanding of sensory integration issues and how to deal with the coping issues your child may have, you will need to consider how best to meet his needs educationally. Most likely, you will want to find a local provider who can help with sensory integration therapy. Contacting the nearest children’s hospital or a child therapy center would be a good place to begin seeking a provider.
If your public school has exceptional special education provisioning, they may be able to provide therapy at school in a low-key learning environment, sensory management, and otherwise help control your child’s learning environment sufficiently to enable learning to take place. Your child can still be overwhelmed by the stimuli encountered in traveling to and from the school if he travels by bus, in going from the classroom to other areas of the school, and by any number of other issues in the traditional school environment. If you find your child cannot cope well with the stimuli, then you will have difficult decisions to make.
As with many other disabilities, home schooling a child who has sensory integration difficulties can be of great benefit, particularly when the child is young. At home, you will be able to control the environment and level of stimulation much better than a school is able, and learning is likely to be improved by the calmer, more familiar environment the child has at home.
Keep in mind also, a child needs to be able to learn foundational skills of reading, writing, and math while he is young, and if possible, without getting far behind peers. If your child has sensory integration difficulties, you may want to consider homeschooling throughout elementary school to provide your child the best possible learning environment while he is learning essential academic skills.
As a child with sensory integration difficulties gets older, he usually improves in his ability to process and cope with incoming stimuli. Once a child reaches a certain level of maturity and sensory issues aren’t overwhelming him on a daily basis, placing the child into a small, but traditional school environment can be helpful for further enhancing his coping skills. If you do decide to place your child into a traditional program of any kind, you will want to be certain his sensory needs are understood and that he is not punished or belittled for being unable to cope with stressors. He must encounter supportive, reassuring interactions when he is overwhelmed, otherwise the environment will cause unnecessary stresses. If your child has particular sensitivities he is not yet able to mediate well, it is a great idea to be sure his teachers are aware of potential areas of difficulty in coping.
Organizations which may be of additional assistance include:
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