Students who are overresponsive to sensory input may dislike the canteen/dining hall due to the noise, smells, visual input and tactile input. All this input is unpredictable and overwhelming. They may already be finding it difficult to eat food due to the tastes, textures and smells, and the stimulating canteen will further increase anxiety and they will be less likely to eat.
Some suggested strategies include:
- Provide a quiet lunch room with reduced sensory stimulation. Students with sensory sensitivities can choose to eat in this room.
- Screen off a quieter area of the canteen with reduced stimulation where a small group of students can eat.
- If students are overresponsive to the smell of food in the canteen, position them near an open window.
- The student could go to the canteen early so he/she can eat when it is quieter but then stay for some social interaction when classmates arrive. This may be effective as the student is more likely to eat when calm, but still has the opportunity to interact with others. It also allows the student to become gradually more familiar and relaxed in the canteen setting.
- Limit the time the student has to stay in the canteen; allow the student to leave when finished instead of waiting for classmates to finish.
- Allow access to a calm area after being in the canteen.
- The student may need support in queuing, selecting food items and finding a seat if feeling distracted and overwhelmed in the canteen environment.
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