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Homeschooling Special Needs and Sensory Integration Tips

by Jessica Parnell | Nov 21, 2017 | 3 min read

I remember the first time I realized my son had sensory issues. We were in our church’s fellowship hall preparing for a special fellowship meal. The room was crowded, loud, and full of people. I saw my then 2-year-old cover his ears and begin to spin around in circles. At that time I didn’t realize I was witnessing a child in sensory overload who was actively trying to calm his overstimulated nervous system. The room felt like a carnival ride that he could not get off!

Fast forward 10 years, lots of therapy, and a few diagnoses later, and both he and I now have a full view and plan for when the sensory carnival hits. I feel equipped to help him with his sensory struggles, and he’s able to communicate his needs more clearly. If you’re homeschooling special needs and your child has sensory integration challenges, you’re not alone, and you’re in the right place! My passion is helping children with special needs thrive through homeschooling with a focus on sensory play and support. In the next few blog posts, I’ll be giving you specific sensory integration tips and tools to make homeschooling special needs a more enjoyable and successful experience for you both!

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

“Sensory Processing” refers to how we receive, interpret, and respond to the information received by our nervous system. It explains our instinctive responses to, say, walking into a drafty room (we might close a window and put on a sweater) or biting into an unexpectedly sour apple (pucker up!). When our sensory processing is disordered, we have difficulty interpreting and responding to our environment. Basically, SPD is an inability to receive, interpret, and respond to stimuli — to use our senses. When children can’t process their senses in an environment, they can’t concentrate, respond effectively, or learn! This makes homeschooling special needs children with SPD all the more difficult.

There are 3 types of sensory processing disorders. Children with Sensory Modulation Disorder may experience strong negative responses to sensations that do not usually bother others, or alternatively, might have little or no response to sensations that would cause others to respond. Sensory Discrimination Disorder describes when a child has trouble differentiating the characteristics of stimuli, such as speed, intensity, duration, or timing. Sensory Based Motor Disorder can be in the form of Postural-Ocular Disorder, which refers to poor functional use of vision, along with difficulty controlling posture or other physical movement; or Dyspraxia, which describes difficulty with planning, sequencing, and executing unfamiliar actions.

What does all of this mean? Basically, if your child has SPD, he will struggle to make sense of the world around him through and with his senses. He may seek out, avoid, or over-respond to sensory experiences.

How to Know If Your Child Has SPD

It’s often hard to know if a child has SPD, given that not all with sensory issues present with other learning or developmental delays. The best way to determine if your child has a form of SPD is to get a formal evaluation by a specialist. However, even those without a formal diagnosis can have sensory-avoiding or seeking behaviors that need to be addressed to create the best learning environment and help them succeed.

Behaviorally, children with SPD will be under-responsive, over-responsive, or sensory-seeking in their reaction to sensory experiences. This list is a great resource for understanding if your child has sensory-processing struggles, and is broken down by age and grade level. Check your child’s behavior against the symptoms to better understand if sensory processing is a struggle.

So, what now?

Homeschooling is tough anyway, but homeschooling special needs may feel impossible. If your child does indeed struggle with sensory processing or modulation, I want you to know that it’s going to be OK! Actually, it’s going to be better than OK! Sensory seekers and avoiders are all around us. Maybe you even recognized some of the symptoms in yourself as you checked the symptom list. We all have sensory preferences and struggles on some level.

Homeschooling is actually a wonderful way to address and support your child’s sensory struggles because he can become the center of his own education. By limiting his sensory experiences within a classroom filled with other kids, noises, and inputs, you’re already on the right path to learning success. Now, with homeschooling special needs, the goal is to help your child better understand and regulate their sensory systems through experiences, play, and support.

Are you looking for tips to help make your child sensory-smart and ease their sensory overload? Our next blog post will give helpful tips, tools, and strategies to make your life, and your child’s life, easier and more enjoyable through sensory integration therapy, play, and planning. Stay tuned!

Jessica Parnell
Hello everyone! I’m Jessica Parnell — mom, homeschool evaluator, teacher, and CEO of Bridgeway Academy. In my 20+ years of experience as a homeschool mom and evaluator, I have had the privilege of meeting homeschoolers that take a variety of approaches to their education. It is their many stories and successes that inspire me in my own homeschooling and I love to pass on the knowledge that I have gained from them to other homeschooling families. The one constant that always remains true is that there’s no such thing as a “cookie cutter child.” Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made and as a result, learns and functions differently. It’s our job to ensure that we’re raising each child to fulfill their individual purpose and when we can teach in a way that inspires them, we are on our way to homeschool success. When I’m not writing or teaching my children, I like to ski, write and participate in triathlons. I graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters in English and I am currently pursuing a degree in Neuroleadership.
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