Students with sensory processing challenges have trouble managing everything their senses are taking in. 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 trouble processing sensory information? Here are some strategies.
Classroom planning, schedules, and routines
- Have a consistent daily routine.
- Give advance warning of changes to the routine.
- Build in brain breaks throughout the day.
- Establish clear starting and ending times for tasks.
- Post visual schedules, directions, to-do lists, and classroom expectations. Be sure students see them.
- Use visuals with pictures of sensory input choices. (Print a PDF of options.)
Building self-regulation skills
- Provide a quiet work space or “calm down” area.
- 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. Try an exercise ball chair, wobble stool, or 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, compression vest, air-filled seat cushion, or other OT-approved sensory tools.
- Provide earplugs or noise-muffling headphones.
- Let the student use a sensory tool, like a stress ball or a fidget spinner.
- Have chewing gum available. Or attach a chewable item to the end of a pencil.
- Let the student sit on a carpet square, in a beanbag chair, or in a chair 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 in need of a break.
- Create a proactive behavior plan for handling sensory triggers.
- Warn the student when there will be loud noises like bells, announcements, or planned fire alarms.
- Allow the student to ask for breaks to promote self-regulation.
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 if a student has motor skills fatigue or trouble with proprioception.
- Let the student use speech-to-text software or a computer.
- Reduce the amount of 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 focused.
- Allow the student to listen to music while working to keep focused and regulated.
Do you have a student who you think has trouble processing sensory information? See a fact sheet about sensory processing challenges.
Do you think your child may need accommodations? Get tips for talking to teachers about sensory processing challenges.
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. Her teenage son has been diagnosed with ADHD.