Sensory Sensitivity in the Classroom

Sensory sensitivity is associated with many conditions transition students may experience such as autism, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety disorder, Tourette syndrome, and others. To understand what students with this condition may experience, watch this short video simulation of sensory overload.

A student may have hypersensitivity in one sense and hyposensitivity in another. For example, they could be very sensitive to loud noises but not know when they are cold and should wear a jacket. In addition, influences like stress or fatigue can cause sensitivities to fluctuate in the same person. Students who are hypersensitive to loud noises would benefit from noise cancelling headphones. Students who are hyposensitive may seek stimulation with activities such as spinning or chewing on a pencil.

Examples of Sensory Triggers

  • Sight—flashing lights, fluorescent lights, busy patterns, clutter
  • Hearing— outside traffic noise, fire alarms, school bells, sudden announcements over the loudspeaker
  • Taste—new, intense, or displeasing flavors
  • Smell—perfumes, chemicals in science lab, unfamiliar odors
  • Touch—rough clothing, sudden contact, rain, wind
  • Vestibular and Proprioceptive—swinging, spinning, climbing, jumping, confinement, changes in air pressure
  • Inner Body (Interoceptive)—hunger, thirst, changes in temperature, having to use the restroom

What Can You Do?

  • Be aware of any sensory sensitivities in your transition students and modify the classroom environment if possible.
  • Provide alternate lighting or turn some of the fluorescent lights off.
  • Avoid perfumes and essential oils without inquiring if these are a possible trigger.
  • Approach students from the front.
  • Avoid sudden loud noises.
  • Create a sensory room or give a hot pass to the restroom or guidance office for a break.

By implementing these measures, your students will be able to focus on their lessons and not the sensory triggers around them. The practice of maintaining focus and developing awareness of their sensory triggers will aid them as they enter life after high school—your attention now can set them up for a successful life of independence.