Participation in a range of activities is important for social, cognitive and physical development. Below are some general suggestions for engaging a student with sensory needs in classroom activities.

  • Independent work
    • A student who is easily distracted or overwhelmed by sensory input in the classroom may need to carry out focused independent work in a screened off area.  This will vary according to individual need as some students will require a separate desk for independent work with tall screens around the desk and some students may only need some natural barriers (e.g. bookcases).  Other students may be able to sit with a group but have a folder propped around the work area to limit distractions.
    • Provide visual instructions.  This will also vary according to the individual needs of the students. It may involve written instructions, pictures or leaving materials out in sequence.
    • The student may require a ‘reading window’ to limit the amount of visual information they have to process on the page.
    • Ensure the start and finish of the task is clear.
    • Some students require increased sensory stimulation to stay alert and focused, and they will find it difficult to maintain attention in quiet sedentary independent work tasks.  These students will therefore benefit from some of the following strategies:
      • Sitting on a Movin’ sit cushion or exercise ball
      • Working in different positions during a task e.g. kneeling or standing at the desk
      • Movement breaks before, during and after the task
      • Fidget object
  • Group work
    Group work for students with autism and sensory needs can be difficult as they are expected to communicate and interact with others, which is already challenging, but these difficulties are further compounded by the background of noise coming from other groups in the classroom.  The following strategies are suggested to assist in the management of sensory input during group activities:

  • Whole Class Activity
    It can be difficult to meet the diverse sensory needs of different pupils in the classroom. The recommendations below are some ways sensory strategies can be integrated into whole class activities.

    • Ensure you have a combination of low stimulation and higher stimulation activities throughout the day.  Try to alternate sensory rich activities or subjects (e.g. Art, P.E., play) with quieter more passive activities (e.g. independent work, reading).  This ensures that underresponsive students access the sensory stimulation they require while the more passive activities will keep the whole class regulated.
    • Use a visual schedule for the whole class.  This will make sensory input more predictable for the overresponsive pupil, and will also show the sensory seeker when they will get the input they require.  Individual schedules should also be used at a level appropriate to the student.
    • Vary work/play positions.  Encourage a variety of positions to include standing (at easel, board or desk), lying on the floor (younger students) or kneeling at desk or board.
    • Allow movement opportunities between tasks.  Students could swap desks for different activities.
    • Introduce movement to whole class activities e.g. writing answers on the board; standing up when asking or answering a question etc.
    • Provide a whole class exercise programme which regulates all students.  The activities listed below will increase the alertness of underresponsive students but will also be calming for overresponsive students.  These exercises will only take 1-2 minutes and can be carried out with the whole class at regular intervals throughout the day e.g. immediately before written work, between different activities or when the teacher notices some students are becoming restless and fidgety or losing attention.
      • 10 jumps (or star jumps)
      • 10 arm presses against the wall
      • 10 hand pushes
      • 10 hand pulls
      • 10 chair presses
    • Allow students with specific sensory needs to access appropriate strategies during whole class activities. These strategies can be discreet:
      • Fidget objects
      • Stress ball or other squeeze object
      • Therabands
      • Sucking from a water bottle
      • Listening to music through headphones
      • Stopping work to do a few seated exercises
      • Carrying out a responsibility which allows movement e.g. tidying away materials, handing out books, wiping a bench
      • Carrying out a responsibility which allows the student to leave the classroom for a short time e.g. taking the register to the office, taking a message to another teacher
    • Use a multisensory approach when possible, especially for underresponsive students who require increased sensory input. Incorporate tactile, visual, movement and proprioceptive input into classroom activities.
  • One-to-one teaching

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