How teachers can better deal with sensory integration issues

Many school teachers think that the more wall space covered with sight words, the ABC’s, classroom rules, maps, posters, the periodic table, steps in the writing process, and photos of fossils the better students can learn.

hard books, easy book because of white space, graphics

Not so.  At least, not so for students with sensory integration issues.  For them the information  meant to help instead distracts and makes focusing difficult.

What can teachers do to modify their classrooms so children can focus better?

  • First, assume sensory integration (SI) issues are as real as the problems of a child needing glasses or using crutches. To get the best possible learning from SI children, meet their needs.
  • Leave plenty of “white” space on the walls. Just as white space on a page of print encourages reading, white or blank space on classroom walls lessens distractions and encourages learning.
  • Limit wall decorations—especially graphic or vivid decorations—to the back of the room where students are not barraged by them. When students face forward, they should see the teacher, the board and the clock, but not distractions.
  • Make sure every student sits in a desk chair which allows the student’s feet—toes and heels—to touch the floor without straining. Children forced to sit in chairs too big for them are uncomfortable, and that discomfort distracts them from learning.
  • Leave elbow space next to every student desk. A student who must sit with both sides of her desk touching another desk can feel claustrophobic, making learning hard.  At the very least, put only two student desks together.
  • Don’t place students so that they face other students.
  • Leave space before and behind a student’s desk so that he can comfortably push back his chair or enter and leave his desk without bumping into another student’s desk. Leave enough space so another student’s feet can’t touch the chair ahead from behind.
  • When students sit cross-legged in a group, if a student wants to sit at the rear, allow it. If a student wants to stand at the back of the line, allow it.  Students sensitive to touch will be grateful and you will have fewer fights and less fidgeting.
  • If a student is concerned about the condition of a used book—ripped or folded pages, highlighting, doodling in margins—assume the concern is real and will interfere with learning. Find a book in better condition.
  • If students share pencils from a classroom bin, assign someone to sharpen them daily or twice daily. Writing with sharp points not only looks better but encourages students to do well.  Dull points can really annoy students with sensory integration issues.
  • Instruct students to use indoor voices in the classroom.

Let students know they can approach you if they have SI issues.  Ask them how they would solve a problem.  Many times they have already figured out how to live with SI.

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