Supporting Sensory Needs at Home

It is so hard trying to provide distance learning for our students that have extra sensory needs! Because the classroom environment and staff behaviors are a critical piece of student success, it can be hard to transition that success to the home environment. 

Explaining our classroom process can be a bit like trying to orally explain how to ride a bike – impossible
Mix into that parents who may have no respite care OR educational training, and distance learning could be a set up for frustration!
Luckily, parents are a crucial part of student learning teams. Because of the need for consistent practices across environments and constant home-school communication, most special educators are well-positioned to help parents make home-based learning a success. The secret to this success will lie in organization (let’s not overwhelm everyone, Okay?) and maintaining YOUR composure. 
Quarantine restrictions have everyone stressed, and we miss our students! Take a deep breath and be the calm foundation for your students and their families. 
Here are some quick tips for supporting parents in meeting their children’s sensory needs at home.
1.  A Sensory Profile
Make sure that you have an updated copy of your student's sensory profile.  Each child is so unique, there is no easy recipe to share for managing sensory needs. However, they do tend to have a blend of sensory defensiveness and sensory seeking needs. Make sure each parent in your class has their own child’s sensory profile from school and in learning environments. Chances are, you have already done this for home-school consistency. If you haven’t, a sensory profile can go a long way towards helping parents understand their child’s reactions to lights, sounds, and physical sensations they may reject or crave.  Here is a FREE one that I have found online.  

Sensory Profile from

2.   A Sensory “Disaster Kit”

Right now, some teachers are assembling packets of work for parents to pick up. Some teachers are driving work to student homes. And some teachers are conveying materials and activities to parents for them to put together. Whichever of these routes you are following, help your parents gather those critical elements students need to meet their sensory needs throughout the day. This kit may include materials like playdoh, slime, or chewy necklaces. It may contain recommendations for weighted blanket use, compression vests, or “heavy work” needed for our sensory-seeking kiddos. The kit should also include strategies for behavioral issues like tantrums. Does turning the lights off in the room help calm them down? A playlist of favorite songs? A book on their favorite topic? You get the idea. Give parents the ingredients they need to be successful as the resident educator in the home.   You may even want to create this kit yourself and drop it off to their house. 
3.   A Visual Schedule

Visual schedules are such an important part of success in moderate and severe self-contained classrooms. It makes sense that implementing a home-specific version of this schedule would help students through this difficult transition, when school was such an important part of their lives. Again, you may have done this with parents long ago, and it is already helping them! Consider other elements of your schedule environment, like choices boards, visual timers, and First/Then boards for parents to use during “teaching time.”  I have a few that I have sent to my student's parents and they are loving them.   Click the picture below to get your hands on my visual aids.


4.   Design an “In-Home” Classroom

One of the best ways to help students through difficult transitions is to establish a new norm. Work together to design a dedicated, functional school or learning area. This area can have a visual schedule, computer, school supplies, and appropriate seating. Consider if it is a good idea to have it enclosed to minimize distractions and maximize the feeling of “school.”  Parents need to know that there needs to be a dedicated space in the house for school so that they can make that separation. 
5.   An Ideal Schedule     
The most challenging element to accommodating special needs at school is the schedule. While routine and schedule are helpful, schools in general start so darn early! One of the huge benefits of this time sequestered at home is the opportunity to let students establish an ideal routine based on their own sleep patterns, need for exercise, and ability to attend throughout the day. There is no need to stick to artificial routines dictated by the school day. You have the opportunity to help families establish a new normal. One of the ways that you can create normalcy at home is by giving them things that they are used to doing at school.  I made a bag for all of my students and gave them each about 4 different task boxes to work on a week.  If you are unfamiliar with my task boxes, you can check those out here. 

6.  Reasonable Expectations
Home isolation is hard on everyone! For our students, managing sensory needs and behavior throughout the day IS the entire school day. We are going to call getting a functional schedule in place, managing sensory needs, and simple behavioral interventions a win. Help parents establish limits on screen time, while also being flexible in consideration of the stress everyone is experiencing. If some academic activities take place, great! More important is giving parents and students strategies for navigating their days while enjoying each other’s company and setting up positive routines.
None of us signed up to teach under the current circumstances. It is hard on everyone, but honestly an optimistic outlook is the only thing that is going to get us all through to the other side! So, take a deep breath and get ready to help your families through their most significant educational challenge ever.
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I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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