The Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Student

SPD kid

With Sensory Processing Disorder, normal daily demands in a classroom are stressful. Homeschooling provides an alternative for your child that allows him or her to grow with accommodations and love…

With SPD, normal daily demands in a regular classroom become stressful.

  • Bright lights can cause headaches
  • Humming lights are distracting
  • Hearing other kids breathing is annoying
  • People may be talking or laughing too loudly
  • The teacher’s words may be too fast or confusing
  • The sound of the school bell is scary
  • Smells may seem overwhelming
  • The seat may feel too hard
  • The clothes being worn may irritate the skin
  • The kid in the next seat may be too close for comfort
  • It is difficult to listen to the teacher and write at the same time

SPD students may be labeled as ‘picky’ or ‘finicky,’ and their issues may be ignored.   This response can lead to an emotional roller coaster.

  • It can be difficult for the student to label emotions (they end up called ‘fear’)
  • It may be difficult to identify the source of the problem
  • Once identified, it can be difficult to share those emotions, and they are often dismissed
  • This can lead to a cyclic reaction, as the struggles are then internalized, leading to more difficulty with regulating emotions
  • The more heightened and dysregulated the emotions, the more difficulty the student will have filtering out sensory input. 
  • Do you see the cycle?? 

Is your child highly sensitive?  How many of these statements apply to your child?

  • Over-sensitive or under-sensitive to noise, touch, smell, etc
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitated, anxious, or irritable
  • Poor tolerance for frustration
  • Impulsive, with poor self-control
  • Obsessive-compulsive
  • Repetitive, uses self-stimulation
  • Oppositional-defiant
  • Tunes out or withdraws
  • Has tantrums and meltdowns (beyond the toddler years)
  • Rigid / inflexible thinking
  • Need to maintain control in situations
  • Need for routine, sameness, and predictability

Examples of self-stimulatory behavior include rocking, hand-flapping, vocalizing, or jumping. These behaviors are an attempt to self-regulate the arousal level and screen out unwanted stimulation when over-aroused.  They can also be used to maintain alertness when under-aroused.  These self-stimulating behaviors are often used early on, until the child learns other ways of regulating arousal.

It can be helpful to learn your child’s specific nervous system quirks.

  • What calms him?
  • What alerts him?
  • What are his sensitivities?
  • What overwhelms him?
  • What are his sensory preferences?
  • What interaction style is he drawn to (or does he avoid)?
  • What learning style works best for him?
  • What helps him feel safe and accepted?

The SPD child may not have any issues during the school day, but while keeping it together, he is accumulating stress neuro-chemicals throughout the day.  The teacher doesn’t see the problem, but it is the parent who experiences the meltdowns after the child gets home to a ‘safe’ environment.  These ‘after-effects’ show up as meltdowns and shutdowns.

Meltdown Shutdown
Stress chemicals reach boiling point
Coping skills collapse
Child acts out to escape or avoid situation and reduce anxiety
Hitting, kicking, pushing, throwing, slamming, biting self or others, and head banging all provide proprioceptive stimulation which releases stress chemicals
Occurs when chemicals build quickly
Stimulation becomes too overwhelming, and nervous system shuts down
Child may be lethargic, limp, unresponsive, and staring or closing eyes
Occurs when chemicals increase gradually

Many people see the child as oppositional and purposefully acting out, but in true meltdowns, the child loses all self-control.  He is not being oppositional; his stress chemicals have reached a boiling point and overtaken him.  Trying to counsel, scold, or reason during a meltdown is ineffective.  Reasoning skills are neurologically unavailable at this point, and the child is often remorseful after calming.  Punishment only works if the child has some degree of control over his behavior.

It is helpful to touch base with all teachers, support staff, and even relatives, to help them understand.  To help your child develop a learning profile

  • Define comfort zones (what is calming)
  • Know which interaction style is most comforting (what makes him feel safe)
  • Define sensory sensitivities and develop accommodations
  • Know his strengths, weaknesses, dislikes, and tolerance levels
  • Create a list of supports and best teaching strategies
  • Know which triggers are the most overwhelming and how to quickly soothe these

Learning to help your child with sensory disorders falls into four categories

  1. Organize Nervous System – Incorporate physical activity daily; consult with a doctor about a sensory diet, supplements, and medication (if needed).
  2. Reduce Sensory Overload – Develop sensory accommodations to prevent overwhelm; establish a plan for calming meltdowns.
  3. Reduce Confusion – Develop a routine, with visual strategies for transitions.  Slow down the day, particularly during transitional times, and continually review with the child.  Take changes slowly.
  4. Establish Boundaries – Set clear boundaries for both the child and interactions with others.  Set expectations and work with child on self-advocation (once older) and using accommodations.  Respect his comfort zones.

Teaching Tools

There are many different strategies for helping the SPD child learn to cope with daily stressors.  It is best to choose one too and work at instilling it before moving on to the next.  Select an easy-to-incorporate one first, to help build self-confidence, before tackling more difficult ones.  Over time, these can become a part of the daily routine.

Proprioceptive Activities Vestibular Activities
Stretching
Wall pushups
Squeeze ball
Run, jump, skip
Lift, carry, push/pull heavy object
Vacuum or sweep
Play leap frog or tug-of-war
Hit, kick, bounce, throw ball
Calm, crawl, scoot, pull up
Roll / knead dough or clay
Wrestle, rough house, pillow fight
Weighted vest, lap pad, or blanket
Jump on trampoline
Swing on swing set or hammock
Run, skip, ride bike
Spin, rotate, swivel chair
Sit & Spin
Play on scooter or wagon
Rock back and forth on rocking chair
Hopscotch, tag, chase
Swingset – slide, seesaw, trapeze
Rock back and forth on therapy ball

Anti-Perfectionism

Help the child learn to fight perfectionism.  All children, regardless of sensitivity, can benefit from learning to ‘fail to succeed,’ meaning to learn from failure.  Teach the child to focus on effort and attitude, rather than performance.  Explain that ‘good enough’ is still good.  (You can demonstrate this by baking cookies that are purposefully less than perfect, and then having a tasting party!  Are they perfect?  No.  Are they good enough?  Yes.)  Make a game of making mistakes each day.  (Obviously, not life-threatening ones.)  Model how to own the mistake and learn from it.  Play games where there are ‘snags,’ such as Chutes & Ladders.

Relaxation Training

Integrated Learning Strategies has several breathing exercises for teaching children to self-soothe. Check them out at this page.

Attention & Focus

  • You may have to remind him to refocus several times a day, but try to do so without anger or frustration.
  • Break large tasks into smaller bits, and recognize the completion of these smaller tasks.
  • Use charts to help keep them focused on the tasks at hand.

So how does this play out in the real-world?   You can break the cycle of the ABCs of SPD!

Antecedent Behavior Consequence
Asked to do something
Homework assignment
Community event
Hitting self or others
Screaming
Hiding
Escape / avoid task at hand

For each of the three antecedents, we’ve outlined possible cognitive or sensory deficits that lead to the behaviors and provided alternative procedures for approaching them.

For example, when asked to complete a task, the child may not understand multiple steps of instruction. By breaking the task into smaller chunks and allowing time to process the request, the child can feel successful.

Deficits Procedures
Cognitive
Delayed processing
Multi-step direction difficulty
Short attention span
Trouble transitioning
Difficulty with uncertainty  

Sensory
Sensitive to touch / noise / smell Overwhelmed by crowds
Difficulty processing oral directions
Request
Use short phrases and visual cues (c)
Give time to process directions (c)
Break task into smaller chunks (c)
Use cues before transitioning (c)  

Homework assignment
Break homework into small chunks (c)
Do one thing at a time, with breaks (c)  

Community event
Use headphones or ear plugs to block noise (s)
Avoid crowded times (s) Prepare by previewing what will happen (c)

If you have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, then you already know that normal daily demands can be a bit of a minefield. You’ve probably already developed several strategies, perhaps unwittingly, to help him cope. Homeschooling provides an educational path for your child that allows him or her to grow with accommodations and love. You’ve got this, mama!

Creating an IEP for the Homeschool Special Needs Student

Parents of special needs children have a difficult row to hoe…one fraught with worry, sleepless nights, and a seemingly never-ending list of doctor and therapy appointments.  Some hope that public schools will help address their child’s needs.  Some avoid the school system and go for the tailored education approach.  There is no right or wrong path to take…only the one that is right for your family.

If the special needs student attends traditional school, they will be given an IEP – an individualized education plan.  This is a legal document that defines what a student needs according to his or her diagnosis.  It outlines a special education program that provides tailored instruction and support services, such as speech or occupational therapy.

Within the homeschool, an IEP can also be a valuable tool.  By sitting down and taking stock of the student’s needs – really taking stock and writing it down – you can evaluate where you’re at, where you want to be, and design a plan for how to get from point A to point B.

Crafting the Individualized Education Plan

When crafting the IEP, consider the following:

  • What are your student’s biggest struggles?  Include academics, motor skills, and life skills.
  • What is your student’s preferred mode of learning?  Visual, audio, kinesthetic?  How can you tailor lessons to that learning mode?
  • Realistically, where is your student today?  Where would you like your student to reach?  (Be realistic.)  Which ONE goal would make the biggest difference in your student’s performance, either in the classroom or in daily life?

The first thing you’ll want to do is take an honest look at where your student is performing.  It doesn’t matter how many grade levels behind that may be, just record the level of current performance in each subject.  This will give you a realistic picture of where you are.

Second, list any support services that you will need, such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy.  This plan is appropriate for students with mild to moderate special needs, as students will severe special needs most likely have been working with a provider since shortly after birth.  Also address any life skills you’d like to see addressed.

Create academic goals for your student.  Make them realistic, or you’ll be setting both you and your student up for frustration.  For example, if he is six grades behind in reading level, aim for growth of two grades per year.  You might be surprised and find that you have a ‘jumper’ – a late bloomer who ‘jumps’ six grade levels in one year!  Write down your goals, and include strategies for how you will meet them.

Create life skills and support services goals for your student.  Write them down, addressing strategies for how you will meet each.  For example, ‘Speech Therapy, 30 minutes three times a week’.  Some of these skills and goals may seem basic, but when you’ve identified the need and written it down as a goal, you’re more likely to address it!

At the end of the school year, reassess your student to see which strategies worked.  Given the informal nature of homeschooling, feel free to continually reassess and alter therapy / strategies as needed.  This is one of the perks of the individual attention you can offer at homeschool.

Some homeschooling families are fortunate enough to have speech and occupational therapy services offered through the school.  For these families, they have created an IEP with the public school as part of the process for obtaining these services.  Oklahoma is not a state, however, that provides educational support services to homeschoolers. 

Once you have determined your student’s needs, see if your medical insurance (including state insurance) will cover any of the services.  If they will, your family doctor can refer you to a provider.  If they will not, you can begin working with your child at home until the situation changes.  Check out Speech Therapy for Homeschool and Occupational Therapy in Homeschool for free / frugal therapy ideas.

Download the FREE templates for creating an IEP in your homeschool.

Teaching the Special Needs Child

For some parents, having a special needs child is the impetus to homeschool.  For others, it’s a nerve-wracking concern.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum, homeschooling a special needs child is an adventure!

With the advent of No Child Left Behind, special needs children both gained and lost in the classroom.  There is more advocacy and information, and accommodations are understood and generally more accepted, but there is still much temptation to box students in.  Many families are choosing to homeschool because their special needs children’s needs are not being met in the traditional classroom.

It can be very overwhelming to homeschool a special needs child, especially at first.  You not only have to plan the academics, but also the therapy and interventions that are required for your child.  In some states, the school system will still help with these needs, but Oklahoma is not one of those states.  We parents are required to find therapists and cover that cost on our own.  It is one of the prices we pay for a lack of legislation and state-mandated testing for homeschoolers.

Getting a Diagnosis & IEP (Individualized Education Plan)

  • If your child has been in the school system, then he probably has an IEP.  Know that it will expire and you cannot get a new one once he’s been pulled to homeschool.  Don’t fret over it; just know it.  Keep a copy of the IEP paperwork to take to therapists and doctors when seeking assistance.  Your therapist will probably do a therapy-specific evaluation, so be sure to keep that paperwork, too.  Start a file…
  • If you are starting from a homeschool environment, your first stop will be the family doctor, who will refer you to one or more therapists.  They will do initial evaluations, which you will want to keep on file.
  • All of this paperwork is your ‘leg to stand on’ should there be any questions about your child’s performance in the future (not likely, but possible).  They are helpful in building your case once you reach the upper grades — as your child may need testing accommodations.  You are eligible to file for accommodations on tests such as ACT and SAT.

You are the Expert

  • No one understands your child like you do.  You know his likes, dislikes, what bothers him, and what works best.  Working with therapists, you can use his strengths and weaknesses to tailor a program specifically toward his needs.
  • For example, our son loves airplanes and aviation, so we have used many aviation-oriented games for therapy.  Because he’s interested in the topic, he puts forth more effort into mastering those difficult tasks.

You may also be interested in: Creating an IEP for the Special Needs Student or the Sensory Processing Disorder Student

Providing Tailored Instruction

  • As parents, you have already spent years teaching your child and learning in which ways he learns best.  Equipped with this knowledge, you are prepared to become an individual classroom teacher as well!  Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you to tailor the lesson plan to his needs.
  • For example, if he has dysgraphia, allow him to orally discuss topics, or teach keyboarding at a younger age.  If he has trouble with multiple instructions, provide short, individual directions.

Moving at a New Pace

  • If your child grasps a concept immediately, feel free to move forward.  By the same token, if he’s having trouble understanding something, take as much time as you need.  For subjects like math and language arts, a failure to build a strong foundation leads to crumbling academics later on.  In a traditional school setting, there is only so much time for each concept, but in the homeschool, you have the freedom and flexibility to take as much time as necessary!
  • Don’t look at it as your child being six months behind in math.  Look at the fact that you are putting in the time to cement a solid foundation.  Some children are ‘jumpers,’ meaning they don’t show any academic growth at all for a long time, but then ‘jump’ two or three grade levels over a short period of time.  Given a strong foundation, things will eventually click into place!  Without that foundation, however, you’re merely building an academic house of cards.  Move at your child’s pace…
  • If you do notice that your child is having trouble in a subject such as learning to read, searching for English tuition prices online could help you find a good tutor in your area.

You are Not Alone

  • Support for special needs homeschool families comes in many places!  Here at Homeschool House, every single one of our leaders has at least one, if not more, special needs children.  Feel free to ask us questions, and we’ll do our best to point you in a helpful direction.
  • There are special needs-specific homeschool conventions, Facebook groups, and even local playgroups (look toward your cities, Tulsa and OKC) for these families.  
  • Most curricula offer ways to tailor toward special needs learners.  You may have to call the curriculum publisher directly, but they’re usually amenable to discussing how it can be adapted.  The Book Shack can also help you with locating curriculum to fit your child’s learning style.

You may also be interested in: Homeschool Encouragement

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.