When kids have trouble managing everything their senses are taking in, it’s important to talk with teachers about how this affects them. Knowing exactly what your kid struggles with allows the teacher to find ways to help your child thrive in the classroom. Here are tips for explaining sensory processing challenges to teachers.
1. Make an appointment early in the school year.
Instead of trying to catch teachers before or after the school day, set up a 15- to 20-minute appointment. Be sure to schedule this at the start of the school year.
Meeting early in the year helps teachers identify potential challenges and strategies that have helped in the past. They can also provide timely support to students.
But sharing information is always important, no matter the timing. So don’t hesitate to reach out even if it’s later in the year.
2. Fill in the details about sensory processing challenges.
Your child’s teachers may have some knowledge about sensory processing challenges. But they may not have all the details they need. Some people may think these challenges affect all kids the same way.
To make the conversation more comfortable, ask teachers how familiar they are with sensory processing challenges. They may have taught kids with these challenges and know strategies to help. But be prepared to fill in the blanks if teachers don’t have this experience.
You can explain that some kids who struggle with processing sensory information are more sensitive. They avoid sensations they find overwhelming, like bright lights. Others are less sensitive and may seek more stimulation. If teachers want to learn more, you can suggest they talk with the special education teacher or occupational therapist.
3. Give specifics on how sensory challenges impact your child.
Sensory processing challenges look different for every child. Talk with teachers about your child’s specific sensitivities, whether it’s to sounds, touch, or visuals. Share if your child has motor skills challenges or sensory meltdowns. Be specific, and mention whether your child has trouble staying seated or is likely to panic during fire drills.
4. Talk about current accommodations and strategies.
Don’t assume your child’s teachers are familiar with your child’s or (if they have one). Provide teachers with a copy and ask them to look over the . Be sure to talk about the equipment your child may be using, too, like seat cushions or headphones.
Let teachers know about strategies that have worked at home and in the classroom. Do you have a system to help your child get dressed? Did you collaborate on coping strategies with last year’s teacher? Or maybe there are things you prepare to simplify field trips. Be sure to mention what hasn’t worked, too. And be open to suggestions for new strategies.
5. Discuss your child’s strengths and interests.
Sharing your child’s strengths and interests is as important as talking about what’s difficult. It can give teachers a sense of what motivates your child and ways to connect. Teachers can also use the information as they come up with strategies to help your child in the classroom.
You can even download a 3×3 card to share with the teacher. It’s a great way to share information about your child’s strengths and challenges.
6. Ask what teachers see and what they suggest.
Teachers may notice things about your child in the classroom. They may suggest strategies based on what they see. Or they may have experience and ideas on how to adapt methods to fit your child’s needs. Together, you can come up with a plan for trying strategies that can help in the classroom.
7. Find out how you can help.
Just asking how you can help shows teachers that you want to be part of a team to help your child thrive in school. It also opens lines of ongoing communication. Teachers may be more willing to reach out to you before problems get big and hard to manage. Be sure to work out the best way to stay in touch. For example, do they prefer email or phone conversations?
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.
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.