Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bridging the Gap: A Sensory Friendly Classroom



                                                 




A classroom is an important practice environment where pupils improve their learning skills and develops a better understanding of life and the community. They get equipped with education to follow their future dreams, however, interference of sensory processing difficulties can hinder a child’s learning abilities and self-esteem to a great extent. 


At the same time inclusion of child within the school brings opportunity for teachers and members of staff to support one more child in becoming independent to her maximal potential, though, it also brings unseen responsibilities on class teacher to understand child holistically from diverse perspectives which may or may not be the part of academic teaching and learning process.


As an Occupational Therapist in a special needs school, I realised that educating and supporting teachers along with other members of staff, regarding the inclusion of Sensory Smart classrooms and related strategies is an indispensable part of my job role.


Often, teachers welcome sensory strategies and sensory integration tools within their classroom settings, suggested by Occupational Therapist in the first place, however feeling themselves ill-equipped to understand the appropriate utilisation of sensory tools, the sensory intervention is discarded or evaded very soon, considering as a waste of time or not their area to work in.


It is imperative for an occupational therapist to reassure, assist and collaborate with teachers in designing sensory-friendly classrooms and implementing sensory strategies among children. Educating and supporting the whole staff regarding sensory environment will aid in developing knowledge for sensory needs and behaviours are often seen among Autistic, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) children.

Modifying tasks and classroom environment can make significant changes in child’s learning potential and behavioural patterns. The classroom affords enormous amounts of sensory stimulation and distractions which lead to “sensory overload”. 

Halogen lights, front wall decorations, much written information on the white board, cluttered desks and surroundings, background noise or poor acoustics, children moving around are some of the physical environment factors that don't allow the child to concentrate well and pay attention to task in hand. Taking too much of information within can lead to flight, fright and freeze reactions.
These strategies can be recommended by school’s Occupational Therapist according to child’s primacies and requirements. Sensory Diet which is a personalised activity strategy plays a pivotal role in child’s academic achievement, learning, and positive behaviour. It should be planned in collaboration with class teachers to achieve the potential outcome from the sensory diet plan.

A child’s future depends on team collaboration, effort, and coordination within a learning institute. It will be injustice with the pupil and the parents who establish their trust in school system believing that their child is in right hands and being armed with best quality education, environment, and social ethics to face the challenging world and live a

OT recommended strategies for Sensory-friendly classroom.


Sensory Box:

It is a large container having different sensory items in it. These items support a child in being focused and engaged on given task, attentive and well-organised in his daily routine activities within the classroom. 

This is a smart concept to simplify lives of everyone (pupil, teacher and parents) which involves utilising different sensory resources that support child’s self-regulation, learning, positive behaviour resulting in increased self-esteem. For example, use of ear defenders helps to improve engagement and attention span on the task in hand within the classroom or home setting. 

It reduces various sources of auditory distractions (e.g., classroom noise, outside classroom voices, birds chirping, children shouting in the playground) that can be the potential threat to children as learning. 
These distractions will hardly bother anyone without Sensory difficulties, however, do have a great impact on the child with auditory hypersensitivity.


Sensory Diet:

It is a carefully designed, personalised activity plan that provides sensory input to a person needs to stay focused and organised throughout the day. It is developed by an Occupational Therapist specifically according to person’s sensory needs and abilities. It is developed to achieve particular goals considering child’s preferences, limitations and available resources. 

For example, a child having touch sensitivities will be given a sensory diet of activities having a calming effect such as deep pressure massage, heavy work, pushing-pulling, sucking frozen candy or fruit, hand push-ups, rocking, swinging, running, obstacle courses. Moreover, activities will be devised depending upon child’s choice and developmental age. 

Sensory Diet is similar to the nutritional diet of the human body. As food and water are basic requirements for body’s survival as well as functioning, likewise sensory diet is essential for reaching, maintaining and improving child’s ideal (optimal) level of alertness. The aim of sensory diet is to support the child in becoming more focused, organised, adaptable and skilful. It helps the child to perform a meaningful task in a successful manner.


Handwriting:

Children with handwriting difficulties should be given proprioceptive input
by utilising different positions, pen grip alternatives and related modifications. Here’s the link for handwriting strategies.





Homework Alternatives:

Provide homework printouts or give assignments in writing and not verbally. Most times it is better to post homework on school website so it is easier for parents and kids to understand the given assignments. Most of ADHD kids have difficulties in copying from whiteboard of blackboard due to distractibility and inattention to focus


Writing Slope:
  • Supports inappropriate writing.
  • Provides ergonomically correct posture, supporting hands and wrist.
  • Positions reading and writing text inappropriately.
  • Reduces strain on neck and shoulder muscles as a child leans forwards.
  • Aids in writing and holding tools correctly.


Movement Break Activities:
  • Star Jumps: These are good to involve whole body coordination.
  • Animal Walks: Walking like bear, elephant will improve body sense
  • Marching: This also involves coordination between both sides of the body, can be difficult. Initially start with feet marching, once mastered, then include arms.
  • Play Hopscotch: This will give distance and space judgement
  • Commando Crawling: Involving both hands and feet.
  • Body Paint: Ask the child to paint his particular body parts such as a right-hand or left-hand index finger.
  • Body Image: Ask a child to draw around his partner’s body on the large sheet and label body parts.


Colour coding:

It is best to colour code each and every subject and study material. For example, all maths folders, binders and handouts can be colour coded with red or green. Similarly, DT can be blue or yellow. This will help the child to organise and manage papers easily and conveniently. 

Moreover, it saves a lot of time and energy from being wasted which can be drained in locating one assignment sheet or revision paper. It is better to involve child when doing colour coding of the particular subject since he may have different perceptions about varying colours. 

Logically, colour coding gives visual stimulation and a clue to the brain regarding reference subjects.