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Sensory Learners in the Classroom

Think you may have a Sensational-Mr. In your class? Did you know there are a staggering 1 in 20 children who are living with SPD? That means, for every classroom, there is at least one child coping with sensory issues. You may find yourself completely unfamiliar with a sensory learner and how that differs from other children you already teach.

There’s lots of different teachers out there: sports coaches, swimming instructors, sunday school teachers, music, dance etc.

Sensory Learners need:

1. Frequent transitions and turnover of activities. Short and sweet is best

2. Movement! Provide opportunities to get up and move. Ask your Sensational-Miss to pass out the papers or crayons. Stretching breaks or games that involve moving your body. If all you have is 2 minutes to accomplish this, great! Better than nothing.

3. Breaks. Provide opportunities to take a break. Your Sensory-kiddo is a fabulous resource to deliver papers to the office. Bathroom breaks, sensory rooms, or an area that was planned ahead of time to go-to if in need of a break.

4. Share your plan. Sensory learners love a plan. Share your plan. Say, “first, we will do this activity, then we will do this…”. Allow for changes. Say, “and if we don’t get to step 4, it’s ok-it’s no big deal” to alert your Sensory Child firstly: to expect the unexpected, and secondly: to show them what their reaction should be. This can be a referring point later should a meltdown happen. Say, “remember when we talked about what could happen if we didn’t get to Step 4?”

5. Space! Sensational-Misses can be very touchy. They may touch too much or really not like getting touched. Practice being Space Rangers in your class. Each child needs to sit in their own space bubble, hands and feet inside their bubble. Similarly, if you have a mat on the floor or connecting mats, outline where each child’s space is and that they shouldn’t go into another child’s bubble without being invited into that space. Some children need more input and love squeeze hugs. Just remember to ask and wait to be invited. Hugging without warning can be alarming for some kids.

6. Intervene with social confusion. “Jordan, I think Tommy is trying to ask you for space. Do you think you could move onto your own square, please?” or “Monique, are you hitting because you feel angry that Terry took your crayon?” Social confusion and giving clear strategy for feelings and behavior is a huge leap for some kids. They may not be able to express themselves and need an adult to help them with that dialogue and what that looks like.

6. Behavior Consequences: get them out! Take a break by distracting. Say, “let’s go check out the snacks over here”, or “let’s play Simon Says for 3 minutes”. Drawing attention to problematic behavior and timeouts are usually ineffective unless they are a means of taking a break and that child is familiar with that plan. Distraction is a much better plan for Sensory Kiddos.

If this doesn’t work, clear consequences are best. “If you chose to do A, B will result” and follow through.


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