When working with children, you will find that meeting sensory needs is one of the most important aspects of behavioral control. Think of all the ways you help yourself focus when working – crossing your legs, bouncing a foot, chewing gum (or the end of your pen), tapping your toe on the floor, etc. A child’s perceived misbehavior is the same attempt at staying focused. A child simple needs more input than an adult does to stay focused.
Here are 3 ways you can meet the sensory needs of the children you work with, whether at home or in a school setting.
While it may seem like a minor aspect of meeting sensory needs, careful observation is one of the most important things you need to do. This type of observation is not simply noticing that Sally is hanging out under her chair and not completing her work. It’s understanding the progression of Sally’s behavior over the course of the day. How does she act when she comes in? How long can she sit in her chair? What types of activities cause her to lean forward in eager involvement? What types of activities cause her to hang off her chair? What other things does she do prior to hanging off her chair?
These types of observations can help you know how to intervene and what types of intervention will best help Sally focus.
Helpful tip: write down your observations over several days, this data will become invaluable as you intervene and will help you know what works best and what is not helpful.
Provide Sensory Opportunities
Often, children will choose the appropriate sensory outlet when provided options. Make sure that there are opportunities for various types of movement throughout the day. Fill a sensory basket with different types of fidgets and other tools that a child can use without being disruptive. Provide an escape for students who cannot cope with the current demands on their attention by allowing students to stand or to go to a hedgehog desk (with poster board up to provide a private work space) apart from the rest of the class. This way children can use tools to help increase the sensory input to increase focus or allow students to reduce sensory input that may be stressful.
These ideas do not need to be expensive and many you can make on your own. Check out some sensory DIY ideas that are simple enough for anyone to make.
Talk to Children About Sensory Needs
When you talk to children about their sensory needs, you give them the tools and knowledge necessary to increase focus and decrease disruptive behaviors. Putting them in charge of their behavior can help ease the load on you, but remember that you will need to help them figure out what input is most helpful at any given point in time. A great resource for both you and your students is the How Does Your Engine Run program. Designed for occupational therapists, I have found it invaluable as a parent. It teaches you and your child how to identify where their internal engine is running and how to move the engine to an optimal zone where they are best able to function.