Students with sensory processing issues have trouble handling sensory input. And at school, they often have to cope with sounds, smells, textures, and other sensations that get in the way of learning.
What classroom accommodations can help students with sensory processing issues? Here are some strategies teachers can try.
Classroom planning, schedules, and routines
- Have a daily routine that changes as little as possible.
- Give advance warning of routine changes.
- Build in brain breaks throughout the day.
- Establish clear starting and ending times for tasks.
- Post visual schedules, directions, class rules and expectations; make sure the student sees them.
- Use visuals with pictures of sensory input choices. (Print a PDF of options.)
Building self-regulation skills
- Provide a quiet work space to use when needed.
- Seat the student away from doors, windows, or buzzing lights.
- Adjust the desk and chair so the student’s feet are flat on the floor and hips are at a 90-degree angle, or put a footstool under the desk.
- Let the student use alternative seating, like an exercise ball or a stand-up desk.
- Consult with the occupational therapist (OT) about attaching a stretchy exercise band to the chair legs or desk for students who need to bounce their feet.
- Let the student work in a different position, like lying on the floor using a clipboard or at an easel.
- Provide a weighted lap pad, weighted vest, wiggle cushion, or other OT-approved sensory tools.
- Provide earplugs or noise-muffling headphones to help with noise sensitivity.
- Let the student use handheld fidgets; consider using a fidget contract.
- Have chewing gum available or attach a chewable item to the end of a pencil for a sensory-seeking student.
- Let the student sit on a carpet square or beanbag during group seating.
- Let the student move as needed within a space outlined in tape or at a seat to the side.
- Work with the student to come up with nonverbal signals to use when overwhelmed or in need of a break.
- Create a proactive behavior plan for handling sensory triggers.
- Give advance warning and verbal reminders of loud noises like bells, announcements, or planned fire alarms.
Giving instructions and assignments
- Reduce the need for handwriting (for example, use fill-in-the-blank questions instead of short-answer questions).
- Allow extra time for writing to accommodate motor skills fatigue and trouble with proprioception.
- Let the student use speech-to-text software or a computer.
- Reduce the amount of visual information on a page.
- Provide colored overlays for reading to reduce visual distraction.
- Use blank pieces of paper to cover all but a few of the questions on a page.
- Use manila folders as a screen to block visual distractions.
- Offer pencil grips, slant boards, and bold or raised-line paper for writing.
- Use a highlighter or sticky notes to help the student stay alert and focused.
- Allow the student to listen to music while working to keep focused and regulated.
Do you have a student who you think has difficulty with sensory processing? See a fact sheet about sensory processing issues.
Do you think your child may need accommodations? Get tips for talking to teachers about sensory processing issues.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Keri Wilmot has worked with children, teens, and young adults for more than 20 years in a wide range of pediatric settings. She is also the mother of a teenage son who has been diagnosed with ADHD.