Navigating Sensory Sensitivities in Special Education
navigating sensory sensitivities in special education blog post title

Exploring Sensory Sensitivities

In the world of special education, there's something truly amazing and important: getting to know and support the special ways our autistic students experience their senses. Sensory Sensitivities can be a little tricky to navigate.  

These ways are different for each student, with some feeling things less and others feeling things more.

As a caring special education teacher, it's all about understanding these differences and using them to make our classroom a great place to learn. This makes school more enjoyable and helpful for all our students!

sensory tools

Exploring Hyposensitivity and Hypersensitivity

Hyposensitivity: Imagine the scenario in which a student in your classroom appears remarkably unperturbed by the jarring clang of school bells or scarcely reacts to physical contact. This may signify hyposensitivity, a condition where sensory input fails to elicit the anticipated response. For instance, a hyposensitive student might not mind wearing clothing adorned with prickly tags, may derive pleasure from deep pressure sensations, or even actively seek out excessive sensory stimulation through repetitive rocking or spinning.

Hypersensitivity: Now, envision another student who becomes visibly distressed when fluorescent lights flicker or certain fabrics graze against their skin. This hypersensitivity signals an amplified response to sensory stimuli. Hypersensitive students may find themselves overwhelmed by seemingly commonplace sounds, such as the hum of an air conditioner or the chatter of their peers.

sensory tools

Addressing Sensory Needs: Practical Examples

Helping students with their unique sensory feelings takes creativity and a personal touch. Let's look at some real examples of how we can do this in our classroom.

sensory tools

Auditory Sensitivities:

  • Hyposensitivity Approach: When dealing with a hyposensitive student struggling to respond to verbal instructions, consider integrating amplified audio cues or incorporating music during lessons. This tactic can effectively capture their attention and bolster engagement.
  • Hypersensitivity Approach: To support hypersensitive students during noisy activities, equip them with noise-canceling headphones. Alternatively, designate a serene corner where they can retreat when the auditory environment becomes overwhelming.
sensory tools

Tactile Sensitivities:

  • Hyposensitivity Approach: For a hyposensitive student who revels in tactile input, introduce sensory bins brimming with diverse textures like sand, rice, or beans. This hands-on exploration serves to stimulate their senses and foster active participation.
  • Hypersensitivity Approach: In the case of hypersensitive students, opt for gentle and non-irritating classroom materials. Offer an array of sensory-friendly fabrics for seat covers or provide fidget tools with varying textures to aid in managing tactile sensitivities.

Visual Sensitivities:

  • Hyposensitivity Approach: A student experiencing hyposensitivity to visual stimuli might benefit from the incorporation of vibrant visuals and interactive displays into your lessons. Consider utilizing multimedia presentations or engaging educational videos to capture their attention.
  • Hypersensitivity Approach: To cultivate a visually soothing classroom environment, employ soft lighting and minimize visually distracting elements. Offer students personalized visual schedules outlining daily activities to alleviate anxiety stemming from uncertainty.

Proprioceptive and Vestibular Sensitivities:

  • Hyposensitivity Approach: Engage a hyposensitive student's proprioceptive and vestibular senses through activities like swinging, bouncing on a stability ball, or employing resistance bands during seated tasks. These activities bolster their awareness of body movements.
  • Hypersensitivity Approach: For students hypersensitive to proprioceptive and vestibular input, provide alternative methods for movement engagement, such as seated stretches or deep breathing exercises. This enables participation without overwhelming sensory experiences.
sensory tools

Olfactory and Gustatory Sensitivities:

  • Hyposensitivity Approach: A student with hyposensitivity may gravitate toward strong scents or flavors. Incorporate scented markers or flavored snacks during art and break times to pique their interest and engagement.
  • Hypersensitivity Approach: Acknowledge hypersensitive students' aversion to strong odors in the classroom. Ensure that activities related to food are conducted in a controlled and well-ventilated space to minimize discomfort.

In conclusion, making the classroom a good place for students with different sensory feelings is an ongoing process. We do this by changing how we teach to fit each student's needs. This helps them grow and feel comfortable, and it's important to respect their unique feelings.

If you would like to read another article, click here!

As a special education teacher, when you understand and support students with different sensory feelings, it can make a big difference. By creating a safe place where we care about each student's sensory feelings, we help them do better in school and in life. Remember, this makes you a better teacher too!

If you are looking for some sensory tools, you can head over to this blog post “The Ultimate Checklist of Sensory Tools

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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