Sensory-friendly supports and alternatives for intense lessons

There are times where some of our most interesting and engaging lessons are just too much for some of our students. The lights, sounds, and excitement can cause a lot of anxiety that ruins the amazing experience and all the hard work put in by the teachers. Students with sensory processing issues have difficulties with some types of sensory input and in many cases build a lot of internal anxiety when things are unpredictable. As educators, we should not have activities where we know some students will not perform well. But there is good news. We can still have intense and interesting lessons, but it does take a little forward-thinking and thoughtfulness for our students.

I was inspired by a random conversation. The conversation was with our PE teachers about how they are providing proactive options for students for their holiday decorated and “intense” lesson for PE that week. What a great idea and more importantly how great it was that they cared about their students enough to plan for this.

I created a video reflection interviewing the teachers and thinking of more ideas to support our students:

Here are some of the takeaways that I reflected on in the video:

Give advance warning to the student. Let them know in advance that the environment will look significantly different for this lesson.

Provide a special private tour of the environment in advance. Allow them to check out the details of the changes and even put their hands on them if possible to feel reassurance and understand what is happening. If it’s a lesson with multiple classes going in, such as physical education, let the student watch another class do the lesson first.

Provide earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to the student. Another option is to provide headphones with music playing that is soothing and preferred by the student.

Take these new experiences slowly. In many cases, the harder you push, the more anxiety you will cause.

Work with the student to create nonverbal cues to use if they are overwhelmed or need a break. These cues or signals may already be in place, but make sure the teacher doing the lesson can recognize the signals.

Give the student a specific role or job within the environment. This can give them a sense of purpose and take their mind off the potential sensory overload.

Give other options in the grade level or in a separate location that include quality lessons with the same learning objectives. Make sure to let the student try these situations first. Least restrictive environment mandates that the student has a right to their primary placement so be careful not to automatically exclude the student just because you think they will not do well with the lesson.

Don’t let a lack of preparation on our part as educators prevent ALL of our students from experiencing the best lessons! What are more tips? What else is important to consider for students with sensory issues when planning for intense lessons?