In characteristics of children with sensory dysfunction

In this lesson, we will discuss the general characteristics of children with sensory dysfunction and how teachers can adapt the classroom environment to accommodate these students.

Sensory Exercise

Here’s a little exercise for you: stand on one foot, pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. Can you do it? We are all familiar with our five senses of smell, hearing, taste, touch and sight, but in order to do this exercise, you will have to use three lesser known senses: movement (vestibular), body awareness (proprioception) and skin sensitivity (tactile). Our senses take in information and relay it to the brain, which then organizes that sensory information. For example, you were able to keep your balance when you stood on one foot because your brain told your muscles in your other leg to stay strong and keep your body upright.

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Sometimes, the flood of sensory information become overwhelming and is too much for the brain to organize. This traffic jam of information is also known as sensory dysfunction or a sensory processing error. A sensory processing error only becomes a sensory dysfunction when the dysfunction significantly impacts one or more area of functioning. For example, the ability to learn is one area of functioning that might be impacted. A student might not be able to sit still, listen to the teacher and do his or her class work at the same time.

Sensory Integration

At this very moment you are experiencing sensory integration.

Your brain is using the information about sounds, smells, tastes, sight, textures and movements in an organized way to determine what is happening inside your body and in your environment. For example, you are hearing my voice, you are looking at the screen and you feel your chair. You are also able to filter out distracting or unimportant sensory information so you are able to concentrate on this lesson.

Dr. A. Jean Ayres first developed the theory of sensory integration.
dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities.Because there are so many different ways in which a dysfunction in sensory integration is displayed, it is not possible to have a single list describing all of them.

However, it is possible to describe general characteristics.

Hyperreactive and Hyporeactive

There are two general types of sensory integration dysfunction that a teacher may encounter: hyperreactive and hyporeactive.In order to illustrate this point, imagine that your senses are on a dial, with the zero being no input and the ten being too much input. If your sense of vision, for example, was set to zero on the dial, you would be considered to be visually impaired, otherwise known as being blind. Continuing with this metaphor, let’s say that a five on the dial is what is considered the typical level of input, a ten would be hyperreactive and a one would be hyporeactive.Many individuals with a sensory challenge show either an under reaction (dial set on one) or an overreaction (dial set on ten) to the information that their sensory system is giving to their brain.

For example, an individual who is hyposensitive to body awareness (proprioceptive) will crave excessive amounts of vigorous sensory input. In this case, the student has his or her sensory dial set on one, and because of this, he or she is consistently hungry for more input. This student may enjoy jumping around, wrestling and giving tight hugs.On the other hand, an individual who is hypersensitive to proprioceptive sensations, for example, will avoid input. In this case, the student’s sensory dial is set on ten. This student is saturated with stimuli and does not want any more.

Typically, these individuals won’t want to be touched, may have uncoordinated movement and may appear to be tense. Other characteristics of hypersensitive sensory challenges include showing extreme irritability, being inconsolably fearful of certain sounds, avoiding certain textures and being highly uncoordinated.

Adapting the Classroom

The classroom environment will need to be adapted for each student’s specific sensory dysfunction. For example, a teacher wouldn’t give the task of stapling papers together to a student who is hypersensitive to tactile sensations. Why? Because for the student who is hypersensitive to touch, the paper might feel like sandpaper on his or her skin.

Noise-canceling headphones can help with concentration.

The classroom is often a noisy place and could be painfully loud for the hypersensitive student. To assist these students, the teacher can change the tone of his or her voice so that it is perceived as being soft and gentle. The teacher can also give the student noise-canceling headphones to help aid his or her concentration.The hyposensitive child who craves sensory input can be the teacher’s helper.

This student can be given the task of rearranging the desks in the classroom, erasing the chalkboard, holding the door open for other students and passing out papers in the classroom. Another strategy for hyposensitive children is to allow them to stretch quietly by their desks when they feel the need to move around.

Lesson Summary

We are all consistently receiving input from our traditional five senses (smell, hearing, taste, touch and sight), as well as our three lesser known senses (movement, body awareness and skin sensitivity). The organization of all of this information is known as sensory integration, and this theory was developed by Dr. Ayres. When the brain isn’t able to process all of the sensory information is an organized fashion, it is described as a sensory integration dysfunction.

Sensory integration dysfunction is typically seen as either an overreaction or an underreaction to sensory input. Any one of the senses can be overreactive or underreactive, and the inability of the brain to make sense of the input can lead to difficulties in learning.In the classroom, once the teacher knows which of the student’s senses is dysfunctional, the classroom can be adapted to enhance the learning environment for that student. For example, if the child is hypersensitive to sounds, the teacher can minimize the noise levels in the classroom and give the student noise-cancelling headphones.


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