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Back To School: Sensory Integration

 

Take a few minutes to think about how your children react to things that affect their senses. The senses include those that we think of immediately: tactile (touch), visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and olfactory (smelling) as well as the lesser-recognized vestibular and proprioceptive senses. The vestibular sense is our body’s response to gravity and our sense of balance and body position. The proprioceptive sense is the information coming through our joints and muscles about where our body is in space. Thinking about how your children react to all the sensory stimuli they encounter at school may pave the way for a smoother school year.

Start with the tactile sense, or touch. Do you have a child who is only comfortable in certain clothes, find labels scratchy, and complains about socks with seams? If so, those brand new fall clothes may cause morning outbursts, as your tactile sensitive child feels itchy and irritated. Even just the feel of hot, cold or sticky bus seats, and hard, cold school chairs can disrupt their sense of well-being.

Classrooms ought to be a treat for the visual sense. Teachers put time and effort into making their rooms interesting. However, the kaleidoscope of colors and patterns that one child finds stimulating may be overwhelming for another. A child overwhelmed by visual stimuli may do better seated at the front of the classroom so they can focus directly on the teacher.
Think about noise. School has lots of noisy places, such as the cafeteria, the school bus, and possibly the halls or playground. These noise sensitive children may not be able to filter out unimportant sounds and, therefore, will not be able to concentrate.

New smells at school can be distracting and make your child uneasy. Classrooms have different smells. Food smells coming from the cafeteria can be intense. Some children may even get headaches from different smells. Eliminating smells may be difficult, but awareness can at least help you and your child understand what is adding to their discomfort.

Challenges to the vestibular and proprioceptive senses may be a little subtler. The comfort or lack of comfort we have in moving our body through space is what these senses are all about. The playground or PE class may be where this is most apparent. Feeling at ease on the playground is an important part of feeling positive about school. The child who is clumsy or unfamiliar with playground equipment may find recess threatening. Enrolling your child in a gymnastics class when they are young can help them become more comfortable with movement and give them a chance to learn skills to use on playground equipment.

Take a few minutes to think about all these challenges to the senses. Ask your children which things bother them, and they may add to this list. Many assaults to the senses cannot be changed, but it is empowering for a child to be able to recognize what is bothering them. If you have a child that has difficulties in any of these areas, stop by school soon to see the classroom and meet the teacher. A flexible, positive approach that gives teachers information but lets them find solutions that fit their style usually works best.