I decided to homeschool my kids for MANY reasons, however, one reason stands out among the others. I’ve mentioned before that two of my kids struggle with sensory processing issues. Sensory overload in homeschool is a huge issue in my house. I’m aware that I’m not alone in this little adventure of mine. Though, I think back to when I first started homeschool and wish I knew then what I know now.
There are many who may just be entering into the world of sensory issues (Sensory Processing Disorder) and Homeschool. Perhaps there is a new diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD or the like. This article is for all you experiencing something on this level!
A homeschool room or area can make or break the day when sensory issues abound. My first school room was a terrible thing. For my family, getting to where we are now has only happened through a serious of
unfortunate events….or life lessons… Being in a better, calmer place for school has taken a lot of work and brainstorming – researching for hours. We’ve also had a lot of help from therapists.
My children’s speech therapist put sensory overload like this…and I’m paraphrasing…
Think of a whiteboard and imagine that as your child’s brain. Kids who have trouble processing their senses have a full white board already just by the normal day to day activities. When something extra pops up in their senses, it overloads the whiteboard almost immediately!
An overloaded white board (brain) equals shutdown kids or mega meltdowns. Our goal as teachers and as parents is to aid our kids in learning how to handle their whiteboards. But, until then we need to help them with daily life by limiting stimulation. With the list below, keep in mind all the senses: Smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. Plus, consider other non seen things like stress of something on their minds, fatigue, diet, comfort level, etc.
1. First things first, provide your children with the opportunity to get a good night’s rest. Give high protein snacks before bed and provide higher than normal protein options throughout the day. Limit processed carbs and sugary things. Many top-notch researchers suggest cutting out many ‘normal’ foods in our culture like crackers, breads, etc. Also provide a covered-lid water bottle throughout the day. If water is an issue, try infusing it with citrus, cucumber, or berries.
2. Develop a simple schedule for the day that your child can decipher easily. Or at least have a somewhat predictable routine.
3. Provide for your kids a chair which allows their feet to be flat. Also make sure the bend at their hips is at 90 degrees. If your chairs are too tall like mine, an easy fix is to place a step stool under their feet. This allows for better posture.
4. Some professionals suggest having desks away from doors and windows. Although I do agree with the door suggestion, in my experience, having the natural muted light from a window is much better than the artificial light of a light bulb. My sensory problematic children have done much better by the window. I don’t allow for bright sunlight to get in their eyes though.
5. I also use clipboards in my school. Even if my son is at a desk, he almost always uses one. This helps keep the paper in place and for some reason he stays on task better.
6. You can also try to shake things up by providing something special for the seating. Some kids enjoy sitting on an exercise ball that they can gently bounce on during their assignments. There are also things like wedge cushions, discs, etc. Bean bags are also an option but it was counterproductive with my children.
7. Up until recently, I also incorporated a gliding rocking chair in our homeschool routine. It’s in another room now because of a lack of space however it is still a great tool. My 6 year old son would rock in it while we did our phonics work. It seemed to be a very useful tool. I just had to get over the fact that he was rocking a lot!
8. If you are in a room that does not have carpet, consider putting a large rug down. If your kids struggle with the auditory side of things, this is very important. Even the slightest sounds echo in a room that has hard floors. Carpet will make a world of difference.
9. Allow your child to learn in various positions or in different locations if needed – even on the floor, outside, in the car, etc.
10. Allow for a decompression area if over-stimulated. This is doable with those cheap kids popup tents and lots of blankets and other comfy things. Or have them go to their room for quiet time mid way through school…or when needed. If you are unable to get them to their decompression area because of a meltdown, remove yourself from the situation for a while.
11. Many suggest displaying some sort of alphabet and numbers list as a resource for your kids but I’m going to suggest otherwise. In my experience any extra visual distraction is one too many. Put things away until they are needed for a specific subject. Don’t have them posted on the walls or on the desk but instead in a resource binder or folder.
12. Building on number 11, greatly limit your wall clutter. This is very overstimulating for children who struggle with any type of sensory processing issue. Have a defined area for these things that is not in clear view of your children’s learning areas. I put things on the sides of book shelves or on one central bulletin board. I replace things often so it doesn’t get crazy.
13. Make your learning area a relaxing, stress and clutter free oasis. One way to do this is to change the color of your room. My school room is a light sage green. It seems to suit us. My furniture pieces and extras are muted tones of creams and blacks.
14. Limit the amount of books, games, and extras that are visible. I’ve made curtains for all of my book shelves and the learning differences were a huge improvement after doing this. See my school room now. Set a goal to keep it simple.
15. Only have work and books out that are currently being worked on. Have other assignments and books in a separate designated area. No need to make them feel overwhelmed.
16. Have a supply of earphones available to use with learning. Although, be prepared to go through several before your child finds some he or she likes. Ear plugs may also be helpful but my children refused to wear them.
17. When speaking to your child assure they are looking at you or your mouth before speaking. Maybe use a white erase board to write down instructions as well. Have the child repeat back to you what was said. This will prevent frustration from not understanding.
18. Give your kids a heads up of schedule changes or changes in their surroundings before it happens.
19. Allow for breaks. But, a break does not mean 15 minutes in front of the TV. This means some kind of swinging, jumping, heavy lifting, or gross motor play. Many parents with sensory kids have mini trampolines. I haven’t purchased one yet but it’s on my list! Also consider looking into the Learning Breakthrough Program which may help with your child’s over all issues. We will be doing this for our school breaks.
20. I have had some good results with allowing my kids to suck on a sucker or chew gum. Although typically the noise from the mouth seems to send the other one into a tail spin. Fidget toys are another option.
21. We’ve also incorporated classical music to help with independent work.
22. When my kids seem to be getting overwhelmed I will massage their shoulders, or pet their hair. It calms them down and helps them to focus.
There are so many other tips out there. I could truly go on for a while on this. I’ve learned to deal with outbursts but it is still a huge work in process! My kids feed off of each other which adds in an extra little bit of fun.
There are a ton of resources and books available to help you with sensory processing issues and sensory overload while homeschooling. Not everything will fit with your family but some definitely will. One great post I read recently is from myaspergerschild.com which has even more ideas!
Do you have a child who struggles in this area? How do you cope? What things do you find helpful?