Sensory Strategies for the School Based OT | The OT Toolbox

Sensory Strategies for the School Based OT

For the child with sensory challenges, the classroom can be an overwhelming place.  All of the sensory systems are touched on in the classroom.  When sensory systems are challenged, learning is a struggle.  School based OTs are often times consulted when students struggle with physical or sensory issues that result in educational deficits.  Previously, The OT Toolbox has shared free ways to incorporate sensory motor experiences into the classroom.   You might be looking for more resources that can be used to address many sensory needs in the classroom.  Below are sensory resources for the school based occupational therapist and strategies that can be incorporated into OT in the school.

School-based OTs can utilize this resource of sensory strategies for school based OT and occupational therapy intervention in schools.


Sensory Resources for the School Based OT

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This is a great article written on sensory integration practices in the school setting.  It includes the clinical reasoning and practices that go along with sensory practice in the school.  Of interest are sensory screening and evaluation recommendations for school settings, sensory intervention and treatment delivery options, and recommendations.  Also included is a table with approaches and sensory strategies for Occupational Therapy intervention in the classroom or school setting.  Case studies include IEP goal ideas related to sensory processing interventions.

Assessments for sensory needs can include direct observation of the child’s performance in the school setting.  Observing a variety of tasks during the school day can be helpful to analyze the demands of specific activities, including needs and strengths in tool use, fatigue, sequencing, spatial concepts, social interactions, physical requirements, cognitive abilities, etc.  A child transitions through a variety of settings during a school day and is challenged in various environments which might present differing needs or abilities.  The school-based OT should assess a student's sensory and neuromuscular functioning in these various environments.  

Many students who struggle with sensory challenges benefit from a sensory diet during the school day.  This specialized diet of sensory activities and input should be designed by an occupational therapist who assesses and identifies the student's particular needs and strengths or interests.  Sensory diets in the school can include many different tools, not limited to fidget tools, specialized seating, movement breaks, weighted lap pads or vests, calming scents, limited or structured visual adjustments, chewing tools, or other activities.  Read more about the goals of a sensory diet

Use this free Sensory Processing Disorder booklet for passing on sensory processing information to parents and teachers. 

Fidgeting Tools for the Classroom

Fidgeting with items can help with attention, regulation, and focus.  Try these fidgeting options in the classroom:

Adapted Seating in the Classroom

Adapted seating can be a sensory strategy that helps with fidgeting as well.  Sensory needs can overflow to wiggling, poor posture, slouching, and decreased focus.  An altered seating system is sometimes used to address a weak core strength and resulting inefficient posture as well.  Try these sensory-based seating ideas:

  • Cheap Alternative Seating Option
  • Movement seats like a disk cushion are great for allowing movement for improved attention.
  • Wobble Seat uses the idea of a therapy or stability ball in the form of a stool.  This is great for classroom use because the giant therapy balls tend to roll away from desks.
  • This Guide to Alternate Seating is a resource that can benefit many individuals in the school, including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and school-based therapists. 
  • Special cushions
  • Bean bags
  • Intertubes
  • Therapy balls
  • Wedge seats
  • Support added to the seat
  • Etc.

Self-Regulation in the Classroom

For the child who struggles with sensory processing disorder or is challenged with impaired responsiveness, interventions in regulation can be used in the classroom:

Sensory-Based Interventions for the School Based OT

Here on The OT Toolbox site, we have a huge collection of sensory-based play and sensory experiences that meet various needs.  Find all of the sensory activities here and how these experiences can address discrimination needs, improve participation, and address sensory modulation. 


Sensory Integration Approach to School Based OT

A sensory integrative approach is based on the work of A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR, and identified as Ayres Sensory Integration.  For school-based practice, sensory integration and praxis needs are addressed by assessment and interventions occurring in natural sensory-rich spaces.   A sensory integration approach utilizes interactions between the OT and the student in a sensory-rich environment in a playful approach that allows for adaptation to novel challenges addressing reactivity, postural skills, praxis, and perceptual skills.  

Read more about sensory-based interventions and sensory integration approaches to school based OT and how these approaches look in meeting needs of students here.


Chewing Tools for Classroom Sensory Needs

  • Pencil Topper Chews come in a variety of textures and toughness to meet sensory needs.
  • Chewable jewelry  is often times appropriate for the classroom, because the variety of necklace or bracelet styles on the market are discreet while meeting sensory needs. 
  • Here is information on how to choose the right chew tool for addressing sensory needs.

Push In or Pull Out OT Services in the School

Sensory needs can be addressed by strategies from the school based OT both in and out of the classroom.  For the child who receives occupational therapy services at school, therapy can occur in any aspect of the child's day where needs are limiting educational abilities.  

OT services completed with a "push in" model allow the therapist to identify needs in the classroom. Therapists can then intervene, and provide adaptations, modifications, and tools during classroom activities.  Consultation with teachers and professionals can occur right in the classroom during daily tasks and in a natural setting.  Sensory strategies can easily be a collaborative nature with teachers and paraprofessionals when performed right in the classroom and in the natural environment of the child's day.  

Therapy being competed in a "pull out" model can address sensory diet needs and development that is then utilized throughout and within the student's daily activities at school.  Specific skill assessment and development can occur in pull out services.  

References:
Occupational Therapy for Children and Youth Using Sensory Integration Theory and Methods in School-Based Practice. Am J Occup Ther 2015;69(Supplement_3):6913410040p1-6913410040p20. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2015.696S04.
School-based OTs can utilize this resource of sensory strategies for school based OT and occupational therapy intervention in schools.

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