student-in-classAre you concerned that one of your students might have a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? Because this condition affects 5-13% of children (three out of four of which are boys) entering school, recognizing and understanding SPDs is imperative to allow that child to get the full attention they deserve.
SPD can be an isolated diagnosis, however is often associated with other conditions such as:  
•    Learning  disabilities
•    Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
•    Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
•    Language disorders
•    Anxiety disorder/depression
•    Behavioral disorders
•    Attachment and post-institutionalization

What does SPD look like in the classroom?
SPD encompasses four major subtypes.
1. Sensory Modulation Disorder:  A problem regulating responses to sensory inputs resulting in strong negative responses or complete withdrawal to sensations that usually do not bother others. There are often problems signs shown in fluctuating emotions or moods that are made worse by stress and vary with the situation.
Common signs that you might see in the classroom include but are not limited to:
•    Easily distracted by noise or an oversensitivity to sounds
•    Reacts defensively to being touched lightly or unexpectedly
•    Overly active
•    Easily distracted by visual stimuli
•    Strong outburst of anger
•    Low frustration tolerance  


2.  Sensory Discrimination Disorder:  A problem recognizing or interpreting differences in the quality of certain stimuli. It is commonly seen with problems in processing sensations from touch, muscles and joints (proprioception) and head movements (vestibular or inner ear sensations).

Common signs that you might see the child exhibiting in the classroom include, but are not limited to:  
•    Bumps or pushes into others
•    Grasps objects too tightly or uses too much force on objects
•    Frequently drops things or knocks things over
•    Mouths, licks, chews, or sucks on non-food items
•    Craves movement, e.g., likes to spin self around
•    Afraid of heights, swings or slides
•    Has poor balance  

3. Postural Ocular Disorder:  A problem with control of posture or quality of movements. This is often associated in low muscle tone or joint instability and/or poor functional use of vision. It is often seen with vestibular and proprioceptive problems.


Common signs that you might see the child exhibit in the classroom include, but are not limited to:  
•    Seems weaker than other children
•    Fatigues easily
•    Frequently moves in and out of seat
•    Slumps while sitting
•    Difficulty making eye contact/tracking with the eyes, e.g., reading
•    Falls and tumbles frequently
•     May seek quantities of swinging or spinning


4.  Dyspraxia:  A problem with planning, sequencing, and executing unfamiliar actions resulting in awkward and poorly coordinated motor skills or spatial recognition typically seen with a sensory processing deficiency. It is usually seen with difficulty doing new activities or those that are done infrequently.

Common signs that you might see the child exhibit in the classroom include, but are not limited to:
• Difficulty following multistep directions
• Strong desire for sameness and routine
• Awkward pencil grasp
• Poor handwriting
• Dislikes or reluctant to participate in sports
• Intense and easily frustrated
• Problems with daily life tasks like dressing or using utensils
Children often express more than one of these qualities associated with SPD, but are often displaying an inconsistent pattern of symptoms, making it difficult to identify why a child is struggling to perform.
Click here for an SPD handout (Educator Fact Sheet) to share with your colleagues.
How do I know if I should refer a child to occupational therapy?
If your child has overall difficulty in one category, or shows several items in three or more categories, this may indicate a need for an occupational therapy evaluation.
How do I help a child with SPD?
Children with SPD may pose very different challenges and require special needs.  However, there are a variety of accommodations that will help most children with SPD and will probably help all of the children in your class remain organized, focused, and supported in completing age appropriate activities. Many of the ideas and accommodations are adaptations and activities that you may already use with your class, but the child with SPD may need a little more support or a little more intensity to benefit from the activity.
The Environment:
Many children with SPD can become easily overwhelmed by extraneous touch, visual, and auditory stimuli. By controlling the classroom environment, you can maximize the child's ability to remain focused and organized.
•    Minimize excess distractions for the child, such as noise.
•    Seat children in an appropriate area of the classroom depending on if they display tactile defensiveness or are easily distracted.  
•    Limit the amount of visual materials on the walls and ceilings.  
•    Prepare the child for any unplanned events that could upset them
•    Create a structured environment for the child.
•    Create checklists for older children.
•    Facilitate changes in activities for example create a cleanup song or teach children to take deep breaths when switching activities.
•    Help the student with planning activities.  
How do I talk about SPD with a parent?
Talking with a parent about SPD may seem intimidating, however most parents want to understand why their child is struggling.  Some children may only display difficulties in school, while others have demonstrated them since infancy.

Click here for a Parent Fact Sheet describing the signs and symptoms of SPD.

Contact us: We can email you our teacher checklists for preschool and school aged kids to assist when deciding if a referral to Occupational Therapy is appropriate.


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