Students with Sensory Processing/Integration Disabilities

Description

Sensory integration is a term that describes the neurological process of receiving, registering, modulating, organizing and interpreting information that comes into our brain from our senses.1 In recent years, the term “sensory processing” has also been used interchangeably.2 

Difficulties with sensory integration or sensory processing may present as challenges with learning new skills and difficulty with organization and attention. Sensory challenges may result from over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to sensory input from any of the sensory systems, including vision, hearing, taste, touch, smell, vestibular (movement and head position) or proprioception (body position and body awareness).3 Differences in processing internal sensations (such as hunger, temperature, heart rate) can also present challenges.4 

Some examples of behaviours related to sensory processing difficulties may include: “clumsiness”/bumping into people or objects, playing too “rough” with other students/learners, having difficulty organizing their belongings, struggling with changes in plans or routines, appearing distracted.5 

Examples

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory processing disorder (SPD) 

Instructional Accommodation Examples

  • Break down skills using task analysis. For example, to send an object to a target, the following steps need to be broken down for the student: 

    • Cradle the object in the throwing hand with the object resting in the palm, focus on the target 
    • Stand face-on to the target 
    • Swing the throwing arm backwards while stepping forward with the opposite foot to the throwing arm 
    • Lean slightly over the extended front foot 
    • Release the object 
    • Follow through towards the target 
  • Use prompting to teach the steps of a skill (e.g., gestures, modeling, gently guiding the student). 
  • Using verbal instructions or using a chant, song or rhyme (e.g., for triple jump, you may repeat: “hop–skip-and–JUMP!”). 
  • Teach a target skill through chaining (e.g., practice standing on the spot as the first step in a series and adding more steps as the student becomes successful). 
  • Present the content being taught in a variety of ways (e.g., write instructions on posted chart paper, use visuals to demonstrate the task, physically model the instructions, physically guide the student through the action or activity). 

Environmental Accommodation Examples

Be mindful of potential sensory challenges in your teaching environment and allow for options to limit overwhelming sensory input and/or provide additional input as needed. 

  • Visual:  

    • Minimize visual “clutter” in the teaching space which can be distracting.  
    • Provide organization strategies for materials (e.g., shelves/cupboards with labels to store equipment) to limit visual distractions. 
    • Prioritize where the student sits in relation to doors, windows, and the teacher in order to limit visual distractions. 
  • Sound:  
    • Minimize loud environments and echoes (e.g., provide the student with noise-canceling headphones, self-regulated breaks, provide options to play the game with minimal sound).  
  • Smell: 
    • Allow for windows to be open for fresh air if possible. 
    • Promote a scent-free environment (e.g., avoid strong scents/perfumes and be mindful of scents in the learning environment). 
  • Taste: 
    • Provide access to appropriate objects for oral input (e.g., student-designated and prescribed chewing objects). 
  • Touch: 
    • Provide a variety of objects that provide tactile input (e.g., fidget toys). 
  • Movement and Body Awareness 
    • Provide opportunities for the student to develop their proprioception (e.g., pushing, pulling, lifting, and squeezing to provide “deep pressure” input to the muscles and joints).  
    • Provide opportunities for vestibular movement (e.g., spinning, swinging, climbing, sliding, and bouncing). 

Assessment Accommodation Examples

  • Allow the student to choose which equipment works best for them to demonstrate their skills (e.g., provide a variety of objects when assessing sending and receiving skills). 
  • Provide opportunities for the student to demonstrate their learning in different ways (e.g., when performing static balances, the student can choose to balance on one foot, two feet, one foot and one hand). 
  • Provide options for working towards a reinforcement for goal completion (e.g., token system). 
  • Use chunking techniques to break down the task to be assessed into manageable steps. 
  • Allow additional time to complete assessments. 

Learn more about supporting students with sensory processing/integration disabilities:  


1 Pollock, N. (2009). Sensory integration: A review of the current state of the evidence. Occupational Therapy Now, 11(5), 6-10.  

2 Miller, L. J., Nielsen, D. M., Schoen, S. A., & Brett-Green, B. A. (2009). Perspectives on sensory processing disorder: a call for translational research. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 3, 22. 

3 Dunn, W. (1999). The Sensory Profile. San Antonio, TX: PsychCorp. 

4 Price, C. & Hooven, C. (2018). Interoceptive awareness skills for emotion regulation: Theory and approach of mindful awareness in body-oriented therapy (MABT). Frontiers in Psychology, 9 (798). 

5 Pollock, N. (2009). Sensory integration: A review of the current state of the evidence. Occupational Therapy Now, 11(5), 6-10.