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Imagine being hypersensitive to sensory input in a modern day classroom: fluorescent lights buzzing, desk chairs moving, the heater humming, the endless chatter of classmates…and that’s before the onslaught of smells in the cafeteria.

If you’re hyposensitive, on the other hand, you feel confined to a seat when all your body wants is to move, to touch the materials and people around you, to jump and bounce and swing. 

And, in many cases, children with sensory challenges are both hypersensitive and hyposensitive, depending on the type of stimuli. 

Being in a classroom all day can feel like an insurmountable task to these children, often resulting in behaviors either at school or immediately afterwards. Yet, they are expected to learn, to process, and to take risks. In order to get them to do any of those things, it is crucial to make the classroom meet their needs. 

By understanding and mitigating the impact of sensory overload–and providing avenues for sensory input for those who seek it–we can create a more inclusive learning environment.

What are Sensory Processing Challenges?

If a child has sensory processing challenges, this means they have difficulties in the way their brain processes sensory information from the environment and their body. This can lead individuals to being overly sensitive (hypersensitive) to sensory stimuli like noises, lights, and textures, or under-responsive (hyposensitive), seeking out more intense sensory experiences. 

These challenges can impact daily functioning and learning, especially in environments not tailored to their sensory needs, such as traditional classrooms.

Ways to Create a Sensory-Friendly Classroom

Creating a sensory-friendly classroom involves incorporating various strategies to accommodate sensory processing challenges:

  • Flexible Seating: Offer a variety of seating options such as cushions, chairs, or standing desks to cater to different sensory preferences, allowing students to choose where they feel most comfortable and focused. Along with types of seats, consider placement in the classroom. Some students may need to be closer to the instructor, while some may need their own space. Some might need to be far from anything producing excess noise, like a heater or air conditioning unit. Some might need to sit in the back so they can see all potential sources of noise and avoid needing to constantly turn around.
  • Sensory Breaks: Implement short breaks for activities like stretching or quiet time, helping students reset and manage sensory overload, improving concentration upon return to tasks. Think of a balloon, for example. Filling it all day without release will force it to pop at some point. To keep them regulated, find ways to release some air throughout the day.
  • Visual Schedules: Use clear, visual timelines of daily routines and activities to reduce anxiety by providing predictability and structure. This allows plenty of time to prepare for transitions. 
  • Lighting: Opt for natural lighting when possible or use softer, non-fluorescent lighting options to minimize visual stress and distraction. Lamps are always a helpful alternative.
  • Smells: Maintain a neutral-smelling environment, avoiding strong fragrances or odors that can be overwhelming or distracting to sensitive individuals. Make sure all food is stored in covered containers and the classroom is aired out regularly.

Adapting classroom environments to accommodate sensory sensitivities is not just about preventing discomfort; it’s a crucial step towards inclusive education. Embracing these strategies demonstrates a commitment to understanding and meeting the diverse needs of all students, fostering a nurturing environment where every child has the opportunity to thrive.

At West Hills Academy, this is our goal. Many of our students, with average and above-average IQs, come to us because the traditional classroom setting wasn’t a fit. We work to customize both our education plans and our learning spaces for the students sitting in our classrooms. If you would like to hear more, reach out here.



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