Sensory Integration and Calming Techniques in the Classroom

You can help children with sensory integration disorder to focus in the classroom.

Many teachers struggle to understand and help children with Sensory Integration Disorders in their classes. “Sensory defensive” children may become easily overwhelmed by the quantity and variety of stimulation in the classroom, while “sensory seeking” children often struggle to concentrate and may be disruptive. Teachers who are able to implement some sensory integration calming techniques in the classroom will help these children to have a positive learning experience.

1 Visual Calming Techniques

Avoid fluorescent lighting and bright or flashing lights in the classroom. Bright sunlight streaming in, or shadows moving across a window can easily cause over-stimulation. Sensory-defensive children benefit from being on the side of the room or near the back where they can see what is coming and will not be surprised by unexpected bumps and light touches. Decrease over-stimulation by keeping the classroom walls free of unnecessary posters and clutter, especially near the blackboard. Making eye contact with the child when giving instructions also helps to focus him.

2 Proprioceptive Calming Techniques

Proprioception is the input that is received by the muscles and joints and can be given passively in the form of deep pressure, or it can be an active sensation when the child participates in a heavy muscle activity. Some children find it soothing to be held in a firm way, to be wrapped in a blanket or to lie under a beanbag. Heavy muscle work such as carrying heavy books, moving chairs, erasing the blackboard or sweeping the floor has also been found to be calming. Squeezing a stress ball, chewing on gum or chewing a special chew toy are proprioceptive activities that can calm a child who needs to do some desk work. Some children benefit from wearing special weighted vests to give them continuous deep pressure stimulation.

3 Vestibular Calming Techniques

Jumping on a trampoline, swinging, using a roundabout or going down a slide all provide vestibular stimulation that is beneficial to both sensory defensive- and sensory-seeking children. If such equipment is available at your school, then encourage the child to use them at recess. Brief breaks to do jumping jacks on the spot can help to calm a sensory-seeking child before desk work and will help her to stay on task.

4 Auditory Calming Techniques

Children with Sensory Integration Disorders may get overwhelmed by sudden noise such as recess bells, chairs scraping on the floor and stationery clattering on the desks. Children who struggle to screen out background sounds may benefit from wearing earplugs while doing their written work. Use a soft voice when speaking to the child, and try to warn him of impending noise such as the recess bell. Some children benefit from having white noise playing through headphones to drown out harsh sounds.

5 General Tips

Create a “calm area” to which an over-stimulated child can retreat. This area could include a beanbag to sit on, a heavy blanket for the child to pull over her body, books to look at or headphones to listen to calming music. A rocking chair is also beneficial.

Standing in a line is stressful for children who get over-stimulated easily, as they are often bumped and nudged by other children. Rather, let them stand at the back of the line.

Keeping an organized classroom and having a regular schedule decreases chaos and will help to keep children with Sensory Processing Disorder calm and focused.

Tracey le Roux has been writing for her own website, O.T. Mom Learning Activities, since 2009, offering practical advice to parents and teachers worldwide. She currently works part-time with disadvantaged children. Le Roux holds a Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy and has a post-graduate qualification in sensory integration.