School Supplies For Sensory Challenged Students

Sensory touch

By Maureen Karwowski

At this point most parents of school aged children have purchased their traditional school supplies.  Pencils, markers, notebooks are on everyone’s list. The parents of students with sensory challenges often overlook some less traditional supplies to buy for their children. We know that all of us need to be in the “zone” for learning, and for our students with sensory challenges, being in the “zone” can be tricky. A little detective work to find out what are helpful sensory strategies for your child will go a long way. Equipping your student with a plan and the needed supplies can get them off on the right foot for a great year.

Here are some ideas:

Fidgets: Sometimes a person’s brain works better if their hands are occupied. Think about someone you know who can knit and carry on conversations at the same time. It may be easier to stand in line, wait to be called on by the teacher, or keep control of their hands if the student has something to “fidget” with. I have worked with many students who keep a fidget in their desk, attached to a carabiner on a belt loop or backpack, or even attached to the desk with Velcro. Here is a list of just a few options, but of course you can find a fidget at many stores.

Oral sensory: For many people, oral sensory input provides a great way to keep focused. This input can be naturally included into a school day. A water bottle with a resistive straw filled with ice cold water is a great way to give some alerting input. Snacks and lunches can have chewy foods such as dried fruit, crunchy foods such as carrot sticks or apple slices. The school may allow your child to chew gum to help with attention with some guidelines. If this would help your child, it is a question worth asking.

Compression:  Athletes frequently use compression clothing to assist them with comfort and give them feedback about their body movements. This type of clothing can help our students, too. I have found that children with sensory challenges, especially those who have decreased body awareness, or who have tactile sensitivity respond well to wearing compression clothing. Compression clothing can be found at a sporting goods store and need to properly fit the child in order to be effective. They also can be ordered through companies that specialize in therapy equipment.

Aromas:  Aromas have long been used for relaxation and attention. Take a fieldtrip to your local health food store with your child to see which aroma is most appealing. Try using 1-2 drops of an essential oil on a cotton ball.   The cotton ball can be stored in your child’s pocket, pulled out and smelled when needed. I have had some students who have found this strategy especially helpful who are sensitive to smells in the cafeteria. Here is a link that outlines which aromas are appropriate for children:

Heavy Work/Resistance:  This type of sensory input is very calming for students and is easily incorporated into the school day. Chair pushups, carrying weighted objects such as the basket of lunches for the classroom, hanging on the monkey bars, folding up the gym mats, are all examples of activities that can be effective heavy work breaks for students. Another suggestion is to work with your students teachers in order to incorporate movement throughout the day. For example, a teacher may choose your student to run an errand to the office, move books, or hand out homework sheets in an effort to help your student’s regulation.

Preparing for school can be difficult enough. However, now armed with these simple and effective techniques, your student will be prepared to succeed!

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