Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children in Classrooms

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The purpose of this article is to describe the characteristics of modulation disorders that have been reported with sensory integration dysfunction and provide strategies for supporting positive development and engagement. Although not well understood, scientists are beginning to link structural and chemical imbalances of the brain with responses to sensory input that seem uncharacteristic or disproportionate. Theorists who study sensory dysfunction often refer to these conditions as "modulation disorders" to reflect the inability of the child to regulate both over- and underarousal or emotional responses to sensory input. The sensory systems related to modulation disorders that are addressed in this article are the tactile system, the vestibular system, and the proprioceptive system. (Contains 1 table.)

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... While the pencil-top fidget assembly learning activity was inspired by commercially available pencil-top fidget toys (Figure 1), the choice to guide students through fabrication of handheld fidgets was predicated on producing simple, beneficial, and useful devices for students. Among learners with Autism and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) fidget devices reduce disruptive sensory seeking behavior, such as touching peers at inappropriate times [33]. These devices have been shown to improve fine motor control in adult users [34]. ...
... Young children naturally imitate, and this can be used for teaching feeding skills. Adults as well as more-skilled same-age peers and older children, including siblings, can provide "howto" examples and feedback (Hendy, 2002;Howe, Brittain, & McCathren, 2004;Lynch & Simpson, 2004;Moore, Tapper, & Murphy, 2007). Modeling also ensures multiple opportunities for practice and reinforcement from peers in home, child care, and community settings. ...
... When children have low neurological thresholds, they notice very subtle changes in stimuli and are aware of more sensory events than other children (Dunn, 1997(Dunn, , 2001Dunn et al., 2002). Children with low thresholds tend to react quickly and considerably to the smallest amount of stimuli (Howe, Brittain, & McCathren, 2004). These children express their emotions with great intensity. ...
Drew is a 2-and-a-half-year-old boy. He is the youngest of four children, yet according to his mother, he is big for his age. Drew loves to play outside with his siblings. He has exceptional motor skills and can run and jump with his older brother. Drew loves to throw and catch, and he can play football with his brother. Drew is very affectionate; he loves to give hugs to his mother and sisters. Drew is learning to use words to get his needs met, and he recently began to combine words. He is always eager to help with chores and meal preparation. Drew has amazing strength, as he is able to carry two gallons of milk at a time, one in each hand. Drew's mother, Pam, has a hard time managing his disruptive behaviors. Pam is distraught because Drew is ?ruling the household.? He often throws fits when he cannot communicate his wants and needs. Drew can be a bully to his older siblings. He bites and hits his siblings, and they give in to Drew just to keep him from throwing a fit. Drew has a very hard time attending to any activity. He wanders the house at dinnertime; he wakes in the middle of the night and empties all of the toys out of his toy box or pulls things off tables and walls. His mother says that Drew feels no pain. He can run into the wall and not cry. He likes to run into furniture, wrestle with his older brother, and carry buckets of grain to feed the family's goats. Pam's concerns lead her to speak to her pediatrician, who referred her to an early intervention team for an evaluation. The assessment results showed evidence of a significant speech and language delay. The intervention team also expressed concern about Drew's interactions with his family. Pam was asked to complete the Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1997), a standardized instrument used to assess children who might have a sensory integration disorder. The questionnaire is completed by the caregiver and then scored by professionals, an early intervention team, in Drew's case. The results were shared with Pam and her developmental pediatrician. Drew was diagnosed with a sensory integration dysfunction (SID).
The experience of being human is embedded in sensory events of everyday life. This lecture reviews sensory processing literature, including neuroscience and social science perspectives. Introduced is Dunn’s Model of Sensory Processing, and the evidence supporting this model is summarized. Specifically, using Sensory Profile questionnaires (i.e., items describing responses to sensory events in daily life; persons mark the frequency of each behavior), persons birth to 90 years of age demonstrate four sensory processing patterns: sensory seeking, sensory avoiding, sensory sensitivity, and low registration. These patterns are based on a person’s neurological thresholds and self-regulation strategies. Psychophysiology studies verify these sensory processing patterns; persons with strong preferences in each pattern also have unique patterns of habituation and responsivity in skin conductance. Studies also indicate that persons with disabilities respond differently than peers on these questionnaires, suggesting underlying poor sensory processing in certain disorders, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delays, and schizophrenia. The author proposes relationships between sensory processing and temperament and personality traits. The four categories of temperament share some consistency with the four sensory processing patterns described in Dunn’s model. As with temperament, each person has some level of responsiveness within each sensory processing preference (i.e., a certain amount of seeking, avoiding, etc., not one or the other). The author suggests that one’s sensory processing preferences simultaneously reflect his or her nervous system needs and form the basis for the manifestation of temperament and personality. The final section of this lecture outlines parameters for developing best practice that supports interventions based on this knowledge.
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