Preventing School Failure: The Sensory Learner

Learners in a classroom may have sensory based needs that are different than others in the class. These sensory differences lead them to misinterpret everyday sensory information such as touch, sounds or movement. Sensory learners often fall into three categories that may overlap; under responder, over responder and sensory seeker (to be discussed in a future newslettter).

Under-responders’ sensory systems are usually less sensitive to sensation. They often fail to respond or register sensory information in their environment. They are usually passive, quiet, sluggish and/or often fail to notice things. Tips to engage this learner include:

- Keep the child active and actively engaged. Ask questions that require an answer.
- Take note of what they attend to and use it to keep them engaged
- Alternate sit down tasks with high energy activities
- Make sit down tasks a sensory experience; put sandpaper under the writing paper, use an incline or easel, have them sit on an inflatable cushion.
- Team the child up with a peer that has high energy
- Use high intensity sensory- based activities (e.g. exercise breaks, trampoline games) to increase their arousal and processing.

Over-responders: The child’s sensory system is overly sensitive to sensations. They respond to sensory information more intensely, more quickly and for longer time than do others. They tend to be more anxious, hyper vigilant, easily stressed and once upset, are harder to calm down.  Tips to eliminate triggers include:

- Limit environmental stimuli whenever possible: use study carrels, noise cancelling headsets or headphones to deliver calming music.
- Use heavy work and exercise throughout the day to lower sensory threshold e.g. rearranging books or chairs, bringing in the groceries, isometric exercises, or even treadmill walking.
- Use visuals, schedules and sensory stories to help them know what to expect and be able to handle new environments.
- Teach them to recognize when they are getting overwhelmed and to seek out strategies that will help them, (seek out the headphones, do deep breathing or closing their eyes and breathing deeply).

For more information: www.STARServices.TV

Carolyn Murray-Slutsky, MS OTR, C/NDT
Betty Paris, PT, M. Ed, C/NDT

Authors of:
Autism Interventions, Exploring the Spectrum of Autism
Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior?