If you have a gifted child, you probably already understand the extra effort needed to make sure that your child is being challenged in their learning. You may be facing an added challenge of a gifted child with sensory processing disorder. Gifted children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) can become easily overwhelmed in their learning environment.
Consider the following scenario.
Let’s call our gifted child Maria. Maria appears to be simply reading her book. However, because she struggles with sensory processing, she is not only reading a book but is also trying to cope with the strong smells from lunch being prepared and the ping of a cell phone in a nearby room.
To children without super sensitivities, these things are often in the background as if their volume dial is on “1.” To Maria, everything in the background is turned up to a “10” or higher. She is an extremely bright child whose world is constantly full of overwhelming sensory input. This presents challenges for the student, parent, and teachers.
But how can we help gifted children with sensory processing issues cope with these challenges?
Treatment for every child may be different, but knowing your child will be the key to success in working with him or her. Below are some strategies and tips that you might find helpful.
Occupational or Behavioral Therapy for SPD
Sometimes, children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) have success with occupational or behavior therapies because it helps them learn how to cope and respond when they become overstimulated. Therapists use games and strategies to help kids learn to successfully adapt to their surroundings.
Consistent Routines to Minimize Sensory Overwhelm
Giving order and focus to the space where your child learns or works will help them stay on track. Routines give purpose to the day and can help your child move from one task to the next without getting distracted by the environment around them.
Some easy ways to implement routines are to provide a checklist of the schedule or learning tasks along with visual cues to help them move between tasks smoothly. You could also help by providing familiar snacks throughout the day or keeping a calendar with family activities and events posted so they know what to expect.
Organized Spaces to Remove Distractions
Organization can help by getting rid of clutter in the room and giving your child the space to learn undistracted by what is around them. It is important to keep essential homeschool supplies in the same place so your child knows exactly where to go for what they need.
Kids with SPD do well with visual reminders or labels in their learning spaces.
Have a Comfortable Work Environment
The space where your child works should be a place where they feel at ease. This will help them tone down some of the sensory distractions because they are in a place where they feel safe.
To create a comfortable work environment, make sure that your child has enough space. This includes having a specific place where they can go to work quietly if needed. You can also use fabric materials to cover lights or use dimmable lights/lamps to tone down the brightness of the room. Large exercise balls can become a special seating choice that’s both fun and helpful for sensory issues.
Weighted Blankets for Sensory Disorder
Weighted blankets are amazing tools because they can help reduce how overstimulated a child with SPD feels. The way weighted blankets work is they provide a consistent pressure that is similar to a tight hug. This pressure tells your body that it is okay to relax, which in turn helps children deregulate and feel calmer.
Optimal Sleep for Kids with SPD
Sometimes children with SPD or SPS need more rest or sleep, especially if they experience an overload of information. This could mean an earlier bedtime, or even just giving them as many breaks as needed.
Screentime and caffeine limits in the evening are important for all kids, but especially those with SPD.
Consider A Sensory Diet
According to the Autism Awareness Center, A sensory diet is “an individualized plan of physical activities and accommodations to help a person meet their sensory needs.” Similar to a normal diet that focuses on including foods from different food groups to help you become healthier, a sensory diet focuses on activities geared toward the different senses. By targeting the senses individually and including examples of each sense throughout the day, your child will be able to meet their own sensory needs and hopefully prevent a sensory overload.
Minimize Distractions for SPD Kids
Although some distractions are unavoidable, there are many distractions that you can easily prevent by moving your child away from them. For example, keeping your child away from distracting areas in their workspace, such as near doors, pencil sharpeners, or computers if they are not using them, can be extremely helpful.
Use Graphic Organizers
When it comes to writing, graphic organizer tools can be a huge help for children who have Sensory Processing Disorders or Sensitivities. Just like keeping the room organized, having a structure for creative tasks such as writing can help them focus on which step they are on. One of the great things about writing is that it can take them in any direction, but teaching them how to become a good writer requires some structure so the reader can understand what is going on.
Use Fidget Toys
Allowing your child to play with something while they are learning can really benefit them if they struggle with SPD or SPS. There are several fidget toys that you could use, such as fidget spinners or cubes, stress balls, or bubble pop toys. While it may seem like this is just giving them another distraction, fidget toys can actually help your child by giving them something to do while learning. Remember that children with sensory processing disorders are already struggling to tune out the noise and distractions around them, so giving them a fidget toy to use while learning can bring their focus to what is going on in front of them rather than around the room.
Provide a Calm Down Kit
A calm down kit is an amazing tool to help your child deal with sensory overstimulation. You could include a variety of items that work for your individual child. This kit could include a favorite snack, a comforting blanket, fidget toys, or even headphones to listen to some music. Whatever your calm down kit looks like, you can create an individual box of resources to go to when your child is overstimulated.
When it comes to helping your gifted child with a sensory processing disorder, it really comes down to keeping a predictable routine for your learner. All of these tips will aid in creating a safe learning environment for your student so they can succeed. Homeschooling provides a great educational environment for students with sensory processing issues because you can adapt the environment and instruction to meet your child’s sensory needs.