A network to share best practices for children with special needs
Do you have a child that has a meltdown around the same time every day? Having trouble with a student who doesn't do well with schedule changes? Are you a parent who feels you have to overuse the “time-out” chair? If you answered "yes" to these questions, you may have a child who has challenges with sensory overload.
These students have trouble handling a busy classroom and the multiple sensations that come with it. Examples are background noise of computers and fans, bulletin boards/walls filled with artwork and other visual stimuli, changing classrooms and going to the gym for a pep rally. These scenarios become too much for kids to handle as the day continues. These children may not be able to articulate that they are in overload mode, so, instead, they reach a breaking point and act out. When this happens a common disciplinary reaction is to put the child in "time-out."
Time-out is usually a space away from the hustle and bustle so kids have a quiet place for their sensory system to regroup. In effect, the student may start to learn the conditioned response and act up to get what his/her sensory system needs, and so starts the cycle over again. As an OT I have taught many teachers and parents to make a paradigm shift in this concept. If you start the day allowing a sensory break at regular intervals (example: 2 hours after school starts) this 5-10 minute period of a sensory "time-in" may help prevent meltdowns later. When this shift occurs, the time-in isn't seen as a punishment nor a reward. It's merely something built into the student’s schedule and implemented every day for best behavior results. Just like a multi-vitamin, many kids need this sensory diet strategy of allowing some regrouping space where they can calm down and reorganize to maintain a healthy sensory system flow. A Fluffchair and a set of Noise Cancelling Headphones in a corner, for example, can do the trick. Also, check out some of our other Relaxation Stations for more effective ideas. Please be sure to share your favorite time-in strategies with us!