Self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you are upset and cheer your self up when you are down. In the classroom, students may need help with self-regulating their emotions and managing their behaviors. The ability for students to learn how to manage their own emotions and behaviors can be vital for them to be able to learn in a school environment. Teaching students how to appropriately express their feelings, act towards others, handle stress, receive criticism, calm down when they are angry or think positive thoughts about themselves are just some of the ways self-regulation skills are so important.
Self Regulation in the Classroom
Managing a classroom can be difficult when you have multiple kids you are responsible for. When you have kids that are acting out and being disruptive this can limit your ability to teach to all of the kids in the classroom. Teaching self-regulation skills to every kid in the classroom can be helpful for everyone, but especially children that have more difficulty in this area.
Also, think about how your classroom environment is set up. Do you have enough area in the room to allow for movement breaks or a corner in the room that children can go to if they need a break? Do you have a positive environment in your classroom for the students? What do you have on the walls of the classroom?
How can we teach self-regulation skills in the classroom?
First of all, make sure you are modeling the appropriate behaviors you would like your students to model. Think about yourself as a teacher, are you able to handle stress and stay calm when your classroom is chaotic? Find ways to demonstrate a calm body yourself when teaching your students.
Provide opportunities during the day to practice self-awareness and coping strategies. We can teach body self-awareness through breathing exercises, movement breaks, and yoga poses. Do you have a minute as a transition between classroom activities? Take a minute to have everyone take a deep breath or get up and stretch. If you have more time, go through some yoga poses together as a class.
Build up the student's self-esteem by going around the room and telling students what they are doing well at. Provide a wall in the room to allow the students to write uplifting and positive messages to their classmates or place positive and encouraging posters around the room. When your students see value in their work and efforts they will be much more likely to succeed.
Teach students about feelings and how they may be feeling during a particular activity. The first step to managing emotions is by teaching them to recognize their emotions. Ways to work on recognizing their emotions would be through emotion flashcards or social stories. Provide pictures of various feelings and have the students identify them. Allow them to share with you how they are feeling during the school day by having a poster of feelings and they can place a sticker on how they are feeling at that moment.
Another tip could be using a visual schedule for the kids in the classroom so they can be prepared as to what will be going on during the school day and make them feel more secure about what will be happening next.
Sensory Strategies to help with Self-Regulation
Providing students with a variety of sensory experiences and strategies can also help teach them self-regulation skills during the school day.
Heavy Work Activities
Heavy work activities are activities that involve providing input to the child's joints and muscles. These could be things that provide pressure to their bodies. These can be calming for some students.
Giving themselves a hug/squeeze
Cleaning up the desks, pushing in the chairs, and lifting and putting away books
Squeezing a fidget toy
Using something weighted such as a vest or lap pad
Push hands into the base of the chair to provide pressure into their hands
Carrying a heavy backpack between classes
Oral Motor Activities
Having a water bottle available to drink from
Sucking through a straw
Having a snack break
Sucking on hard candy
Using a visual schedule to help with the school routine
arts and crafts activities
positive and uplifting visual posters around the room
think about the lighting in the classroom, can you dim the lights for calming activities?
listening to music
singing songs during transitions
singing songs during the lessons
wearing headphones or earplugs to block out the noise
Movement Based Activities
Getting up to stretch between activities
Singing head shoulders, knees, and toes and moving to the song
having students run errands for you to take something to the office
playing follow the leader around the room
providing a variety of seating options for the students to be able to wiggle while learning
bean bag chair
the ability to lay down on the stomach and use a binder to hold the paper to write
Teaching Self-Regulation skills in the classroom can be vital to help students learn to the best of their abilities! Taking time during the school day to take breaks and be aware of how you are modeling self-regulation skills to your students can be helpful. Helping students manage their emotions and behaviors will have a lifelong lasting impact for them to be able to participate in a variety of activities as they get older.
Sara Anderson is a pediatric occupational therapist as well as a sibling to a teenage brother with autism. Her family has created the blog www.learningforapurpose.com to help parents and professionals support teens with autism. We share valuable resources we have learned as a family on our journey to help my brother become an independent adult. We have a Teachers Pay Teachers Store with resources for teaching life skills. You can follow our journey on Pinterest and Facebook.
In this post you will learn about a sensory processing disorder checklist for children, teens, and adults.
Every aspect of our lives relies on our ability to process sensory information. For example, if you touch boiling water, your sense of touch signals your brain that it's hot, and your brain instructs your muscles to move your hand away to prevent injury.
However, for someone with sensory processing disorder (SPD), their brain might misinterpret the information.
Before going over the sensory processing disorder checklist, let's understand SPD and how to use the list.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
SPD is a condition that affects the way the brain receives and interprets sensory information. Someone struggling with sensory dysfunction may be over or under-responsive to stimuli. This can interfere with their daily life.
If you think you or someone you know has SPD, you can assess for potential signs and consult an expert for a professional diagnosis.
With proper help, anyone experiencing SPD can overcome the challenges associated with the condition and improve the quality of their personal and social lives.
How much does it interfere with their daily lives?
Don't take it lightly if you nod yes to several of the red flags in this checklist. Instead, use it as a basis to talk to a doctor or an Occupational Therapist.
I also have a comprehensive Teen Sensory Processing Guide eBook that I highly recommend you go over. It will guide you on how to help your teenager navigate their sensory needs and lead a more independent life successfully.
Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist
There are 8 sensory systems we will take a look at with this checklist.
Tactile: This is your touch sensory system.
Vestibular: This is your body's balance and orientation to space with movement.
Proprioceptive: This is your body's internal sense of movement.
Gustatory: This is your body's sense of smell.
Olfactory: This is your body's sense of taste.
Auditory: This is your body's sense of hearing.
Vision: This is your body's sense of sight.
Interception: This is your body's sense of internal body awareness. This tells us if we are feeling sick to our stomach, we are hungry, thirsty, or if we have to use the restroom as examples.
Signs of Tactile Dysfunction (Touch)
1. Tactile Defensiveness (Hypersensitivity to Touch)
Avoidance of Touch: The individual might avoid physical contact, or they might pull away or become distressed when touched.
Discomfort with Certain Textures: They might be uncomfortable with specific textures, either in clothing, food, or other materials.
Distress during Grooming Activities: They might resist or become upset during grooming activities, such as hair brushing, teeth brushing, or bathing.
Preference for Certain Clothing: They might insist on wearing certain types of clothing and refuse to wear others based on how they feel.
Distress with Messy Play: They may avoid or become distressed with messy play, such as playing with sand, clay, or finger paint.
Avoidance of Certain Foods: They may avoid foods with certain textures, leading to a restricted diet.
Overreaction to Minor Cuts or Scrapes: They might react strongly to minor injuries or discomforts, like small cuts, scrapes, or bug bites.
Difficulty with Clothing Tags or Seams: They might be bothered by clothing tags or seams and might prefer tagless clothing or clothing without seams.
Discomfort with Shoes or Socks: They might have difficulty wearing shoes or socks, or they might prefer to go barefoot.
Overwhelm in Crowded Places: They may become distressed or overwhelmed in crowded places due to accidental brushes or touches.
Dislikes hair brushing or is picky about brushes
Uncomfortable with face washing and teeth brushing
Finds raindrops, shower water, or wind on skin unbearable
Overreacts to minor cuts, scrapes, or bug bites
Refuses to walk barefoot on grass or sand
Avoids touching certain textures (blankets and rugs)
Resists friendly or affectionate touch
Prefers hugs over other types of touch
Avoids group situations due to fear of unexpected touch
Frequently wipes or washes hands due to discomfort with dirt
2. Under-Responsive (Hyposensitivity to Touch)
Unaware of Touch: The individual might not notice when they're being touched or may not respond to physical contact.
High Pain Tolerance: They might not seem to notice injuries, or may have a higher tolerance for pain than others.
Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: They may have trouble with tasks requiring tactile perception, like buttoning clothes, tying shoelaces, or manipulating small objects.
Not Realizing Hands or Face are Dirty: They might not notice when their hands or face are dirty or messy.
May Not Notice Temperature: They might not react to hot or cold temperatures that would be uncomfortable to others, potentially putting them at risk of harm.
Craving for Physical Contact: They might frequently seek out physical contact, or enjoy activities that provide strong tactile input, like wrestling or burrowing under heavy blankets.
Difficulty Judging Pressure: They may use too much or too little pressure when writing, drawing, or interacting with others.
Frequent Mouthing of Objects: They might frequently chew or bite on objects, clothing, or themselves, possibly to gain more sensory input.
Not Mindful of Clothing Tags or Seams: They may not be bothered by clothing tags or seams that might irritate others.
Disinterest in Textured Objects or Surfaces: They might show little interest in objects or surfaces with different or interesting textures that might fascinate others.
May touch everything and everyone
Seeks out soothing surfaces or objects
Shows no distress with injuries or shots
May hurt others during play
May exhibit self-abusive behaviors
Seeks out textures that provide strong tactile feedback
May not be aware of dirt or runny nose
May not notice being touched unless it's done forcefully
3. Poor Tactile Perception and Discrimination
Difficulty Identifying Objects by Touch: The individual may struggle to identify objects without looking at them, just by feeling with their hands.
Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: They might struggle with tasks that require tactile perception, like buttoning a shirt, tying shoelaces, or handwriting.
Clumsiness: They might often drop objects or bump into things due to a poor sense of their body in relation to their surroundings.
Difficulty with Tasks Requiring Hand-Eye Coordination: Tasks like catching a ball, using scissors, or playing video games might pose a challenge.
Difficulty Distinguishing Between Similar Objects: They may struggle to distinguish between similar objects by touch alone, like differentiating coins.
Difficulty Judging Pressure: They might use too much or too little pressure when writing, drawing, or interacting with others, which can lead to accidentally hurting someone or breaking things.
Struggle with Textured Materials: They may have difficulty identifying or tolerating different textures, affecting their choices of clothing, food, or other items.
Discomfort with Grooming Activities: They might resist or become distressed during grooming activities, like brushing teeth or hair, due to heightened sensitivity or difficulty perceiving tactile input.
Difficulty with Tasks Involving Dexterity: They may struggle with tasks that require dexterity, like assembling puzzles or manipulating small objects.
Difficulty with Activities Requiring Body Awareness: They might struggle with activities that require body awareness, such as yoga or dance.
Fearful of the dark
Struggles with tasks like dressing themselves
May not recognize where they were touched if they didn't see it happen
Struggles with using scissors, crayons, and utensils
Difficulty understanding physical characteristics of objects like shape, size, texture, temperature, weight, etc.
Unable to identify objects by feel and relies on vision to retrieve items from a backpack
Signs of Vestibular Dysfunction (Movement)
1. Over-Responsive: Hypersensitivity to Movement
Fear of Movement: The individual may be afraid of activities that involve movement, such as swinging, sliding, or riding in a car.
Nausea or Dizziness: They may often feel sick or dizzy, particularly during or after movement.
Difficulty with Changes in Head Position: They might get upset or disoriented if their head position changes, like when bending over or lying down.
Avoidance of Fast Movements or Spinning: Activities that involve quick movements or spinning might be distressing or disorienting.
Fear of Heights: They might have a heightened fear of heights or places where the ground is uneven.
Clingy Behavior: They might frequently seek support or cling to people or objects, possibly due to a fear of falling.
Difficulty with Balance: They may struggle to maintain balance during activities like walking on uneven surfaces or riding a bike.
Resistance to Lying Flat: They might resist lying flat without a pillow, possibly due to discomfort when their head is not upright.
Motion Sickness: They may frequently experience motion sickness during car rides or other forms of transportation.
Trouble with Coordination: They may show difficulties coordinating their body movements, as the vestibular system plays a critical role in coordination.
Avoidance of Physical Activity: They may avoid or resist physical activities or sports, particularly those that involve a lot of movement or changes in position.
Has an intense fear of falling
Prefers sedentary activities, moves slowly and cautiously, and avoids taking risks
Fearful of heights and of feet leaving the ground
Dislikes elevators and escalators and may feel motion sickness
Avoids stairs and uneven surfaces
Fearful of riding a bike, jumping, hopping, or balancing on one foot
Loses balance easily and appears clumsy
Avoids activities that require good balance
2. Under-Responsive: Hyposensitivity to Movement
Craving for Movement: The individual may constantly seek out movement, such as spinning, swinging, or bouncing.
High Energy Levels: They might seem to have an inexhaustible amount of energy, and rarely sit still.
Difficulty Sitting Still: They may struggle to sit quietly, often fidgeting or squirming.
Frequent Spinning or Twirling: They may enjoy activities that involve spinning or twirling and do not get dizzy easily.
Love for High-Speed Activities: They might prefer fast-paced or high-risk activities, like roller coasters or jumping from high places.
Difficulty with Balance: They might have difficulty maintaining balance, particularly with their eyes closed, due to an under-responsive vestibular system.
Problems with Coordination: They may appear clumsy or have trouble coordinating their movements, which could affect their ability to participate in sports or activities that require precision.
Frequent Rocking or Swaying: They might often rock or sway, even when standing or sitting, possibly seeking additional vestibular input.
Difficulty Maintaining Focus: They may struggle to focus or pay attention, particularly when they are not allowed to move.
Difficulty Understanding Body Position: They may struggle with understanding where their body is in space, leading to potential clumsiness or frequent bumping into things.
Low Muscle Tone: They might appear floppy or have difficulty maintaining posture due to reduced muscle tone.
Craves intense and fast movements, including spinning experiences
Prefers running, jumping, or hopping instead of walking
Enjoys sudden or quick movements, such as going over bumps in a car or on a bike
Seeks out risky experiences
Constantly in motion and has difficulty staying still
Engages in body movements like rocking, leg shaking, or nodding while sitting
3. Poor Muscle Tone or Coordination
Low Muscle Tone: The individual might seem floppy or loose, struggling to maintain postures or hold up their head.
Poor Posture: They might often slouch or lean on objects for support due to reduced muscle strength.
Difficulty with Balance: They might struggle with balance while standing or walking, particularly on uneven surfaces or with their eyes closed.
Clumsiness: They might frequently bump into things or trip and fall, appearing uncoordinated.
Trouble with Fine Motor Skills: Tasks requiring precision, like using scissors or fastening buttons, might be challenging due to poor hand-eye coordination.
Difficulty with Gross Motor Skills: They may struggle with whole-body movements, such as running, jumping, or riding a bike, due to poor body coordination.
Difficulty Learning New Physical Tasks: They may find it hard to learn new motor skills, like a dance routine or a new sport, as these require coordination and balance.
Struggling with Sequential Tasks: Tasks that require a sequence of movements, like climbing stairs or getting dressed, might be challenging due to poor body coordination.
Tendency to Prop Themselves: They may frequently prop themselves up against walls or furniture when standing or sitting.
Difficulty with Rhythmic Movements: They may struggle with rhythmic activities, like skipping, dancing, or swinging a bat.
Frequent Fatigue: They might tire easily during physical activity due to reduced muscle endurance.
Has difficulty turning door knobs and handles and opening and closing items
Has difficulty catching themselves if they fall
Has poor body awareness and frequently bumps into things, knocks things over, trips, or appears clumsy
Has a limp, “floppy” body
Has difficulty learning exercise or dance steps
Signs of Proprioceptive Dysfunction
1. Sensory Seeking Behaviors
Craving for Rough Play: The individual might constantly seek out rough play, like wrestling or jumping.
Frequent Physical Contact: They may crave physical contact and not understand personal space boundaries.
Excessive Jumping, Bouncing, or Spinning: They may frequently engage in activities that involve intense body movements.
High Pain Tolerance: They might not seem to notice injuries or may have a higher tolerance for pain than others.
Difficulty Sitting Still: They may find it hard to stay still and may constantly fidget or move around.
Heavy-Handedness: They might often break objects, not knowing their own strength or not realizing how hard they're pressing or pushing.
Craving for Tight Clothing or Swaddling: They might prefer tight clothing or enjoy being swaddled or wrapped tightly in blankets.
Frequent Stomping or Loud Footsteps: They might walk or run heavily, making a lot of noise with their feet.
Difficulty Understanding Body Position: They may seem clumsy, bump into things, or have difficulty coordinating their body in space.
Preference for Chewing or Biting: They might frequently chew or bite on objects, clothing, or themselves.
Excessive Throwing or Slamming of Objects: They might often throw things, slam doors, or make other loud noises.
Frequent Pushing or Leaning Against People or Objects: They may often lean against walls, doors, or other people, seeking the sensory input.
Seeks out activities involving jumping, bumping, and crashing
Kicks feet on the floor or chair while sitting at a desk or table
Bites or sucks fingers and objects
Prefers tight clothes, belts, hoods, and shoelaces
Loves to receive bear hugs
Grinds teeth throughout the day
Loves pushing, pulling, and dragging objects
Frequently hits, bumps, or pushes other teens
Chews on pens, straws, shirt sleeves, etc.
2. Difficulty With Movement
Clumsiness: They might appear uncoordinated and clumsy, frequently bumping into things or falling.
Difficulty Grading Movement: They might use too much or too little force when picking up objects, writing, or interacting with others, leading to objects being dropped or broken, or others being accidentally hurt.
Difficulty with Fine Motor Skills: Tasks that require precision, like buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces, could be challenging.
Struggling with Gross Motor Skills: They may have difficulty with tasks that require whole body movement, like jumping, running, or climbing stairs.
Problems with Balance: They might have difficulty maintaining balance while standing or walking, particularly with their eyes closed.
Difficulty Navigating Spaces: They may struggle to move through crowded or narrow spaces and might frequently bump into things.
Trouble Learning New Physical Activities: They might have a hard time learning new motor tasks, like riding a bike or playing a new sport.
Difficulty with Sequencing Movements: Tasks that require a series of movements, like doing a dance routine or getting dressed, could pose a challenge.
Poor Posture: They might frequently slouch or lean on things for support.
Difficulty Judging Distances: They might struggle to judge distances accurately, which could affect their ability to catch a ball or use the stairs.
Difficulty Discerning Right from Left: They might struggle with discerning right from left, which can affect coordination.
Difficulty with Depth Perception: They might struggle to perceive depth accurately, affecting activities like sports or even navigating steps.
Has difficulty knowing how much to move muscles when doing tasks
Struggles with controlling writing/drawing pressure, making it too light or too hard
Misjudges the weight of objects
Does everything with too much force, such as walking, slamming doors, or pressing things too hard
Signs of Olfactory Dysfunction (Sense of Smell)
1. Hypersensitivity to Smells (Over-Responsive)
Increased Sensitivity to Smell: The person is more sensitive to smells than is typical. Even faint smells might be perceived as overpowering or unpleasant.
Distorted Perception of Smell (Parosmia): Normal smells are perceived differently than they used to, often with a distorted or unpleasant interpretation.
Unpleasant Perception of Smell (Cacosmia): This is a specific form of parosmia where all smells are perceived as repugnant or foul, regardless of their actual odor.
Phantom Smells (Phantosmia): The person senses smells that aren't present in their environment.
Headaches: Some individuals may experience headaches as a result of being exposed to certain smells.
Nausea and Vomiting: Strong or particular smells can trigger feelings of nausea or even lead to vomiting.
Difficulty Eating: Due to the heightened sensitivity or altered perception of smell, individuals may have a hard time eating, as the smell of food may be overpowering or unappetizing.
Anxiety or Panic Attacks: If the hypersensitivity to smells is severe, it could trigger anxiety or panic attacks, particularly in environments with strong or numerous odors.
Avoidance of Social or Public Places: Individuals may begin to avoid places where there is a likelihood of encountering strong or numerous smells.
Impaired Ability to Identify Smells: Despite the hypersensitivity, there might also be difficulty in correctly identifying specific odors.
Dizziness or Lightheadedness: In some cases, exposure to certain smells could lead to feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness.
Respiratory Symptoms: Hypersensitivity to smells may also induce respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, or difficulty breathing
Refuses to eat certain foods due to their smell
May be bothered by strong cooking or household smells
2. Hyposensitivity to Smells (Under-Responsive)
Decreased Sensitivity to Smell: The person may have difficulty noticing smells that others can easily perceive.
Impaired Ability to Identify Smells: Despite the presence of smells, the individual might have trouble identifying them correctly.
Inability to Detect Danger Signals: A person with olfactory dysfunction might fail to notice potentially dangerous smells such as gas leaks, fire, or spoiled food.
Reduced Taste Sensation: As smell is closely linked to taste, a reduced ability to smell can often lead to a diminished sense of taste or changes in food preferences.
Unintentional Ignoring of Personal Hygiene: Individuals may neglect their personal hygiene as they cannot perceive their own body odor or the smell of their surroundings.
Difficulty Eating: This can be due to not being able to fully enjoy the taste of food, as the flavor of food is largely determined by its smell.
Lack of Interest in Cooking or Eating: Without the ability to smell food, cooking and eating can lose much of their appeal.
Decreased Enjoyment of Pleasurable Scents: Individuals may miss out on the joy or comfort that certain scents, like the smell of fresh flowers or baked goods, typically provide.
Lack of Emotional Response to Smell: Smells can often trigger memories or emotions, and a lack of sensitivity to smell might impair this connection.
Lack of Awareness About Environmental Changes: People with hyposensitivity might not notice changes in their environment that are linked to smell, such as a new fragrance in the room.
Frequently Asking Others to Confirm Smells: Due to a reduced sense of smell, individuals may often ask others to verify or identify smells for them.
Has trouble telling apart bad smells
Uses smell as a way to interact with objects
May eat or drink things with harmful odors since they don't sense the smell
Unable to identify scents from scratch-and-sniff items
Ignores or doesn't register unpleasant smells
Signs of Auditory Processing Dysfunction (Sounds)
1. Hypersensitivity to Sounds (Auditory Defensiveness)
Heightened Reaction to Sounds: The person reacts strongly or negatively to sounds that others find tolerable or even pleasant.
Frequent Ear Covering: They often cover their ears to shield themselves from sound.
Avoidance of Noisy Environments: Individuals might avoid places with a lot of noise, such as shopping malls, restaurants, or busy streets.
Anxiety or Fear Responses: They might display signs of fear or anxiety in response to certain sounds.
Irritability or Agitation: There could be signs of irritability or agitation when exposed to specific noises.
Difficulty Concentrating: They may have trouble focusing or concentrating when there is background noise.
Discomfort with Everyday Sounds: Everyday sounds, like the vacuum cleaner, a ringing phone, or even someone chewing, could cause distress.
Difficulty Sleeping: They might have trouble sleeping due to environmental noises that others might not even notice.
Physical Discomfort or Pain: In severe cases, certain sounds could lead to physical discomfort or pain in the ears.
Withdrawal from Social Activities: To avoid potentially distressing noises, the individual might pull back from social activities or outings.
Frequent Use of Headphones or Earplugs: They might often use headphones or earplugs to reduce the volume of their environment.
Panic Attacks: In extreme cases, certain sounds could trigger a panic attack
Bothered by background noises (for instance, lawn mowing or outside construction)
Asks people to be quiet frequently
Refuses to go to places like movie theaters, parades, skating rinks, or musical concerts
Gets easily distracted by sounds others may not notice, such as the humming of appliances or ticking clocks
Fearful of certain sounds, such as a flushing toilet, hairdryer, or dog barking
Gets startled by loud or unexpected noises
2. Hyposensitivity to Sounds (Under-Registers)
Lack of Response to Sounds: The person may not respond to sounds that others usually notice, such as their name being called or a phone ringing.
Difficulty Following Verbal Instructions: They may have trouble understanding or following verbal directions, especially if there's background noise.
Inattentiveness: They might seem to zone out or appear distracted, particularly in noisy environments.
High Tolerance for Loud Noises: Individuals may not be bothered by loud sounds that others find uncomfortable or overwhelming, like sirens or loud music.
Fascination with Sounds and Noise: Some individuals may show a heightened interest in sounds and may enjoy making noise.
Frequent Requests for Repetition: They might often ask others to repeat what they've said, even in quiet environments.
Difficulty with Speech and Language Development: Children with auditory hyposensitivity may have delayed or impaired speech and language development.
Difficulty Locating the Source of a Sound: They may struggle to identify where a sound is coming from.
Preference for Loud Volume: They might prefer to listen to music, watch TV, or play games at a volume that others find uncomfortably loud.
Limited Reaction to Surprising or Sudden Noises: Sounds that would usually startle or surprise people might not elicit a strong reaction.
Talks to self through a task, often out loud.
Doesn’t respond to verbal cues or name being called
Enjoys excessively loud music or TV
Has difficulty understanding or remembering what was said
Appears confused about where a sound is coming from
Requires frequent repetition of directions
Signs of Visual Processing Dysfunction
1. Hyper-Responsiveness to Visual Sensation (Over-Responsiveness or Overreaction)
Difficulty with Bright Lights: They may find bright lights, such as sunlight or fluorescent lighting, to be overwhelming or painful.
Distress in Busy Visual Environments: Crowded places or environments with lots of visual stimuli (such as busy wallpapers, cluttered rooms) can cause distress.
Difficulty Making Eye Contact: They might avoid making eye contact due to it being uncomfortable or overwhelming.
Problems with Fast-Moving or Flashing Images: Quick or flashing images, such as those on TV or computer screens, might be disturbing.
Fascination with or Distress from Certain Colors or Patterns: They may be strongly attracted to or distressed by certain colors or patterns.
Difficulty with Reading or Writing: Words on a page may seem to move or blend together, making reading or writing challenging.
Avoidance of Visual Tasks: They might avoid tasks that require a lot of visual focus, such as puzzles or fine motor activities.
Frequent Squinting or Covering Eyes: They may often squint or cover their eyes to block out too much light or visual input.
Problems with Visual Discrimination: They might struggle to distinguish between similar-looking objects or struggle to find an object when it's among others.
Discomfort with Direct Light: They might be bothered by direct light, such as sunlight or a desk lamp, more than others.
Frequent Headaches: They may experience frequent headaches, possibly from eye strain or overexposure to certain visual stimuli.
Can’t tolerate specific lighting like fluorescent overhead lights
Struggles with puzzles and gets frustrated at the movies
Struggles with sudden changes in lighting and bright or flashing lights
Complains of headaches and discomfort in bright light or colorful lighting
Lack of Response to Visual Stimuli: They may not react to visual stimuli that others usually notice, like a new item in their environment or someone waving at them.
Difficulty Following Visual Directions: They might struggle with tasks that require visual attention, like copying from a board or following a map.
Trouble Recognizing Faces: They may have difficulty recognizing people, especially if they aren't very familiar or if they've changed their appearance.
Problems with Visual Discrimination: They might struggle to distinguish between similar-looking objects or struggle to find an object when it's among others.
Little Reaction to Bright Lights: Bright or flashing lights might not bother them as much as they would typically bother others.
Limited Eye Contact: They might not make much eye contact, but this may be due to a lack of noticing or interpreting visual cues rather than discomfort.
Difficulty with Reading or Writing: They might struggle to see the words on a page clearly, making reading or writing challenging.
Difficulty Navigating in Low Light: They may have trouble seeing in low-light conditions that others can navigate easily.
Frequently Bumping into Things: They might often bump into objects or people, suggesting a problem with spatial awareness or depth perception.
Difficulty with Tasks that Require Visual Coordination: Tasks such as catching a ball, tying shoelaces, or coloring within lines might pose a challenge.
May waves hands or objects in front of eyes
May be drawn to light up spinning objects
Struggles to understand what they see
Struggles with eye-hand coordination
Struggles to watch movies without discomfort
Has difficulty with reading and writing tasks
Signs of Gustatory Dysfunction (Sense of Taste)
1. Hypersensitivity to Oral Senses (Over-Responsiveness or Overreaction)
Picky Eating: They might be very selective with food, accepting only a limited range of food types and textures.
Distress at Toothbrushing: They may find toothbrushing uncomfortable or distressing due to the sensation of the toothbrush in the mouth.
Difficulty with New Foods: They might resist trying new foods, especially if they have different textures or temperatures.
Gagging on Certain Textures: Certain food textures might cause them to gag or choke.
Avoidance of Hot or Cold Foods: They may prefer foods at room temperature and avoid hot or cold foods due to sensitivity.
Difficulty with Dental Visits: The sensations associated with dental procedures may be uncomfortable or cause distress.
Overreaction to Mild Oral Discomfort: They might have an exaggerated response to small oral injuries or discomforts, such as a loose tooth or a small cut in the mouth.
Avoidance of Certain Utensils: They may prefer certain utensils over others due to the way they feel in their mouth.
Difficulty Wearing Orthodontic Appliances: They might struggle to tolerate braces, retainers, or other orthodontic appliances due to increased oral sensitivity.
Struggle with Certain Clothing Textures: They might be bothered by certain clothing textures or tags against their skin, which can reflect general sensory over-responsiveness.
Discomfort during teeth brushing
Intolerant to temperature extremes, such as hot or cold foods
Dislikes mixed textured foods, such chunky soup
Resists trying new foods and avoids certain textures
Has specific food or drink temperature preferences
Uses only specific utensils, such as a particular spoon or fork, or no utensil at all
Feels anxious when presented with new foods
Mouthing Objects: They might frequently mouth or chew on non-food objects, as they may seek oral input due to decreased sensitivity.
Overstuffing Mouth with Food: They may put more food in their mouth than is typical or safe, potentially due to a decreased sense of how much food is already in their mouth.
High Tolerance for Spicy Foods: They might enjoy eating spicy or intensely flavored foods that others might find overwhelming.
Difficulty with Chewing or Swallowing: There might be issues with processing and manipulating food in the mouth due to decreased oral sensitivity.
Frequent Drooling: They may drool frequently, possibly because they aren't as aware of the saliva in their mouth.
Little Reaction to Oral Injuries: They might not react much to oral injuries, like biting their tongue or cheek, due to decreased sensitivity.
Difficulty with Speech: They may struggle with articulation or other aspects of speech, possibly due to decreased oral awareness.
Preference for Textured Foods: They might prefer foods with a lot of texture, such as crunchy or chewy foods, as these provide more oral feedback.
Insensitivity to Temperature: They might not be as bothered by extremely hot or cold foods or drinks as others typically are.
Chewing on Clothing or Body Parts: They may often chew on their clothing, fingers, or other body parts, seeking oral stimulation.
Stuffs food into cheeks
Chews on clothing
Prefers spicy foods
Hums all the time
Prefers a vibrating toothbrush
Signs of Interoception Dysfunction (internal sense in the body)
Interoception refers to our ability to sense what's going on inside our body, helping us to feel and understand internal signals like hunger, thirst, heart rate, and bowel or bladder urgency.
Difficulty Recognizing Hunger or Thirst: The individual might not realize when they are hungry or thirsty, potentially leading to skipped meals or dehydration.
Unaware of Body Temperature: They might not notice when they're too hot or too cold, which can lead to discomfort or potential health risks.
Inconsistent Recognition of Bathroom Needs: They may struggle to realize when they need to go to the bathroom, leading to accidents.
Overeating or Under-eating: They might eat too much or too little due to a lack of recognition of the feeling of fullness or hunger.
Difficulty Identifying Feelings: They may struggle to identify and express their feelings as interoception is closely linked to emotional self-awareness.
Unaware of Heart Rate Increases: They might not notice when their heart rate increases due to stress or physical exertion.
Difficulty Recognizing Fatigue: They may struggle to identify when they're tired, leading to overexertion or lack of rest.
Unaware of Physical Health Issues: They might not notice symptoms of illness or injury, such as a sore throat, headache, or a sprained ankle.
Difficulty Regulating Breathing: They may struggle to regulate their breathing during physical activity or stressful situations, not recognizing when they need to slow their breaths down.
Difficulty with Self-Regulation: They may have a hard time with self-regulation, including managing their behavior, attention, and emotions.
As a parent or professional handling a teenager or adult with SPD, your commitment to helping them can make a big difference in the quality of their lives. And with the right resources, you can do it!SPD is common in people with autism spectrum disorder. Have an autistic teenager? Get my Mega Bundle of Functional Life Skills Resources for Teens and Adults and feel confident in guiding them to a more fulfilling life.
In this post you will learn about a variety of sensory activities for autistic adults to help enhance their everyday life.
As an autistic adult, finding ways to cope with sensory processing difficulties can be very challenging. However, sensory activities can be a godsend for managing these challenges and improving daily lives.
Sensory activities for autistic adults can range from simple to complex, which can all fundamentally improve a person’s functional life skills.
Let me share with you ten exciting sensory activities for autistic adults to help enhance their day-to-day lives. Whether you’re looking for relaxation or stimulation, these activities are a great way to engage the senses and have fun.
What Are Sensory Activities And Why They’re Worth It
Sensory activities are those that involve the use of the five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound – to create a stimulating environment. Autistic adults who perform sensory activities experience a calming effect that reduces anxiety and helps them focus on tasks.
Studies conducted by the University of California found that sensory integration therapy reduced anxiety and depression in autistic adults by also improving social skills and communication abilities.
Researchers from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders also found that deep-pressure touch stimulation had a calming effect on autistic adults, reducing their anxiety.
Sensory activities also improve communication skills by encouraging the use of language to express emotions and sensations. For example, using sensory bins filled with various textures can encourage autistic adults to describe how the materials feel, helping them develop their descriptive vocabulary.
Sensory activities that involve music or sound can also help autistic adults learn to express themselves through music, rhythm, and tone.
Tips for Choosing the Best Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults
When choosing sensory activities for autistic adults, you must consider their individual preferences and support their sensory needs. For instance, some individuals may enjoy movements like dancing or yoga, while others may prefer tactile stimulation, like playing with playdough.
You will also need to ensure that the activities are safe and they don’t cause any sensory overload or discomfort. For example, loud noises or bright lights may be overwhelming for some individuals, so it’s best to avoid activities that involve these sensory stimuli.
By providing a variety of sensory activities that match an individual’s preferences and needs, you will create a therapeutic environment that promotes relaxation, communication, and social interaction for your loved one.
10 Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults
Whether you’re looking to help your autistic adult relax or engage in a more active sensory experience, the following activities offer a wide range of options. I’ve also provided suggestions on how to modify each activity to meet different sensory needs, so you can get them up and running in no time.
1. Kinetic Sand Play
Kinetic sand is a tactile sensory experience that can help soothe individuals with processing difficulties. The kinetic sand can be molded into shapes and designs, which helps with fine motor skill tuning.
To make the experience more enjoyable, you can incorporate small objects like shells or miniature toys to hide and find.
Aromatherapy is a sensory activity that involves using essential oils to create a calming atmosphere. The oils can be used in diffusers, applied to the skin, or added to a bath. Lavender is a popular choice for relaxation, while peppermint can help with focus and energy.
3. Music Therapy
Music therapy can be a helpful sensory activity for individuals who enjoy sound. Consider playing different types of music, from calming instrumental pieces to upbeat tunes for dance parties. Encourage your autistic friend to sing along or play instruments if they are interested.
Yoga is a fantastic sensory activity that incorporates breathing and movement to promote relaxation and body awareness. Yoga can also go a long way in aiding balance and coordination.
There are many online resources and videos that can guide individuals through yoga sequences designed specifically for people with sensory processing difficulties.
5. Sensory Bins
Sensory bins can be customized to an individual’s sensory needs, incorporating different textures, scents, and objects. Fill a container with materials like rice, beans, or water beads, and add small toys or objects to find and manipulate.
6. Art Therapy
Art therapy is an incredibly effective sensory activity for individuals who enjoy creative expression. Consider offering different types of art materials like paint, clay, or markers. Encourage your loved one to experiment with colors, textures, and techniques.
Cooking is a great sensory activity that can help with practical skills like following directions and measuring ingredients. Try mixing up different textures and smells by using herbs, spices, and different types of food. Make sure to choose a recipe that matches their skill level and interests.
Exercise is a sensory activity that can be a lifesaver for individuals with sensory processing difficulties, as it can help them feel more grounded and aware of their bodies. Consider activities like walking, biking, or swimming.
9. Sensory Bottles and Lights
Sensory bottles and lights can be a calming sensory activity that promotes visual stimulation. Fill a clear plastic bottle with water, glitter, and small objects like beads or sequins. Then, encourage your loved one to shake the bottle and watch the objects move around.
Gardening is a great sensory activity that incorporates tactile experiences like digging in the dirt, planting seeds, and watering plants. Gardening can also help with practical life skills like responsibility and patience.
Remember to choose activities that match your loved one’s preferences and interests to ensure they are engaged and motivated to participate. If you need help with that, check out my Teen Sensory Processing Guide Ebook for more support and ideas.
In Conclusion about Sensory Activities for Autistic Adults
Sensory activities can have a profound impact on the lives of autistic adults, helping them develop vital skills and manage their sensory needs.
By engaging in sensory activities, they can improve their mental health, communication skills, and social skills. Incorporating sensory activities into daily routines is a great way to improve overall well-being and quality of life.
Make sure to utilize the resources provided above for guidance on effectively implementing these activities and starting your journey today!
In this post you will learn everything you need to know about sensory processing disorder in teenagers, including treatment approaches, resources, and more!
Whether we fully grasp that or not, so much of our day-to-day function is dictated by our senses. Smelling smoke, tasting how much salt or sugar is in our food, feeling our skin getting sore, or getting overheated during exercise are just a few examples where our senses make all the difference.
So if our brains have difficulties with some sensory input, it only makes sense that our everyday functioning will suffer from it. That’s what sensory processing disorder is all about, and it’s a double whammy for teenagers.
But how can we make it better for them? Thankfully, there’s a lot that we, as caregivers and professionals, can do. Let’s dive into everything you need to understand about sensory processing disorder in teenagers and the best ways to manage it.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a dysregulation of how the brain reacts to sensory input. An individual with SPD could be hypersensitive to certain senses and/or hyposensitive to others.
For example, a child or a teenager may feel physical pain in their eyes because of fluorescent light but wouldn’t notice if they had an open, bleeding wound.
Someone with SPD could be perfectly comfortable in really cold weather without wearing a safe amount of clothes but would get nauseated and highly irritable on a mildly hot day.
It’s important to note that the dysregulated reaction to sensory input isn’t just psychological; kids with SPD exhibit a measurable difference in their neurological response to stimuli.
Is It a Symptom of Autism?
As of this moment, SPD isn’t recognized as a diagnosable condition in the DSM-5, or at least not on its lonesome. It is, however, considered a symptom for multiple diagnoses, including ADHD, ASD, and schizophrenia.
What Is Sensory Seeking?
Just like some sensory input triggers discomfort and anxiety, some input brings visceral comfort and joy. That’s why some kids and teens with SPD (and other disorders) will engage in sensory-seeking behavior that ranges from harmless fun activities to dangerous or “weird” behavior.
Some examples of sensory-seeking behavior are touching different objects, surfaces, or people, repetitive motion, restless legs, hitting things, yelling or singing loudly, and thrill-seeking activities.
Sensory seeking isn’t problematic in itself but becomes an issue when the behavior is unacceptable like breaking things, deemed odd by the teen’s peers like rocking or petting people’s hair, or harmful to the individual like skin picking.
There’s a lot that you can do as an occupational therapist or parent of an SPD teen. One of the greatest things about working with teens is that they get to be directly involved in their own treatment.
Working with a therapist may be really difficult for teens, but living in an environment where clothes feel like barbed wire and normal everyday sounds feel like nails on a board is harder.
Since this is a disorder of the nervous system, it’s crucial to establish a baseline of safety and comfort before attempting to develop better reactions. The following approaches can be done separately or in sequence, depending on how well-adjusted your teen is with their SPD.
SPD-Conscious Lifestyle Changes
The first and probably most important treatment of SPD is to construct an environment where your teen has sensory safety. The purpose of this approach is to eliminate sensory triggers and replace them with grounding ones. This is the most effective way to achieve comfort and trust.
It requires a full understanding of the kind of sensory input your teen struggles with and the kind that brings them comfort. This is also the one part that’ll win a particularly defensive personality over.
Want to listen to super loud music? Let me soundproof your room. Super picky eater? Let’s choose a collection of feel-good but also healthy snacks that are stocked at all times. That may also mean that they stop or replace activities that trigger them.
For example, a teen with tactile sensory issues may struggle with a sport like tennis because of the sweaty grip of the racket but feels right at home in the water. This means it’s time to drop tennis classes and explore the possibility of doing swimming lessons instead.
It also extends to accommodations at school and home, such as wearing noise-canceling headphones in class, allowing them to leave class early to avoid busy halls, getting them their own chair in the living room that has comfortable upholstery, covering fluorescent and harsh lights, etc.
If your teen has a sensory-safe environment at home and is able to minimize the negative sensory experience at school, then it’s time to think about planning positive experiences into their routine.
A sensory diet is a fancy way to say scheduled sensory de-stress time. A teen’s sensory diet probably won’t include a session of playtime with shaving foam paint, though it definitely could.
Some simple things you could plan for your teen include having dedicated walk times between classes (outside of recess,) allowing them to sit on the floor in class, or having alone time at the gym to stretch or move freely.
The final phase of managing SPD is talk therapy. I say final, not because it needs to be done last, but because it’s of a lower priority compared to establishing a sensory safe zone for your teen.
There’s a lot that therapy can do for individuals that have SPD, and their chances of success are even higher if they understand that what they choose to focus on during therapy is in their control.
If you feel like your teen is ready to have that conversation, sit down with them to set goals for their SPD treatment.
Do they want to focus on getting more comfortable with new sensations? Are they more interested in learning to communicate their unique needs effectively to those around them? Do they still need to experiment with different sensory experiences to know what feels safe?
Talk therapy can help an individual with SPD understand their own sensory needs better and work through triggers with tools such as mindfulness and nervous system regulation activities.
For a teenager with sensory processing disorder, life can feel hard. Of course, as with all teenagers, their ability to translate their hard into your own can be uncanny.
If you feel like things are going downhill with your kid, don’t despair. Teens are usually resistant to everything, including things that used to work well for them, so it’s only natural that your journey with a teen will have some hiccups.
In fact, this is such a recurring problem that it needs to be addressed in depth, which is why I made a Teen Sensory Processing Guide for parents, occupational therapists, teachers, and any professional working with SPD teenagers.
This ebook will help you understand SPD on a deeper level, come up with a plan for and with your teen to go about their day smoothly, and figure out their own sensory needs.
Water safety is a huge safety concern especially during the summer months where kids are more exposed to pools, lakes, and the beach. When researching about water safety for kids with autism, I found out that drowning is the leading cause of death for kids with autism. Drowning is such a concern because children with autism can wander off and they may be drawn to water areas.
This is why teaching water safety skills are so IMPORTANT!!
Water safety skills are important for all children to learn, but this is vital for children with autism in order to help keep them safe.
*This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy for further details.
How to help your child feel more comfortable with swimming lessons and the water:
Help them ease into the swimming program by letting them take a tour of the pool/environment before the lessons. Let them explore the area and get used to the sights, smells, and sounds that they may encounter. Create a positive atmosphere by talking about the pool and how fun the experience will be for the child.
Find a way to introduce the water to the child before the lessons begin. This could be by letting them watch videos of swimming lessons on YouTube, introduce water play with toys during bath time, or get a mini pool with very shallow water and let them play in there.
If the child is super fearful of the water, they may need an extended amount of time to desensitize to the water. If the child cannot swim, try to find a swim vest or flotation device that child can wear to help keep them safe.
Teach the skills in a way that the child will understand. Try to create an atmosphere with minimal distractions and repeat the concepts as often as necessary for the child to understand. Be patient.
Try using a visual schedule during a swimming lesson to help them understand what they will be learning and help with transitions between the activities. This can also help to ease anxiety and frustration to help make a more successful swimming lesson. Try taking pictures of the actual pool environment to help them better understand the environment and to help with transitions.
Create a sensory-friendly environment for the child. Do they need to wear a specific type of swimsuit, wear goggles, ear plugs, or nose plugs? Check out the KU Sensory Enhanced Aquatics program with a video showing how to help make teaching water skills for children with autism successful!
Kickboards: these can help your child stay afloat while they practice kicking their legs.
Goggles: these can be helpful if your child is bothered by getting water in their eyes.
Ear protection: These can be helpful to help keep water from getting into the ears, but also to help minimize the sound.
Water Noodles: Noodles are another fun way to use a flotation device to help child float and learn to kick their legs.
Help Stop Wandering
Set up the environment for success by putting bells, chimes on doors to help let you know if they open. Put locks on doors and put high chain link locks as well out of reach of kids. Secure the pool area with a fence, cover, and alarms. Install a fence/gate with an alarm around a home pool. Let your neighbors know you are worried about your child wandering and that your child has autism. Encourage them to always keep their pool fence secured and aks if you can contact them if your child ever wanders.
Always stay near your child when around the water. Do not let them out of your sight. An accident can happen super quick, and you can be right there to help stop it from happening.
Teach your child about the dangers of water. Talk to them about water safety through a social story or social video.
We hope you find these water safety tips and reousces helpful for you and your loved one. We want to make the water safe for all children! Let us know if you have any more safety tips you would like us to add!
Summer vacation can be a great time to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the school year, but it can also bring about some added stress of going away from the typical routine. Some teens may do well without structure, but some may still need some structure throughout their day as well. As a family, we are always finding ways that we can continue to work on building life skills with everyday activities.
The summer months can be a great way to explore new activities that you may not have the time to do during the school year. These can be great activities to help engage your teen in new and fun experiences, but also help them learn new life skills as well. Just because it is the summer, does not mean they have to stop learning.
We decided to help create a list of summer learning activities that you can do with your teen this summer to help them gain independence with life skills!
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