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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Wong

Teachers: is your room sensory friendly?

As we head into 2023, it’s an exciting time to make fresh, positive changes in the classroom and school. Why not challenge yourself, staff, and colleagues to create a strength-based, sensory accomodating environment for your autistic & neurodivergent learners that will support ALL of the students you teach.

What does this mean and how do you do it?

Sensory-environment takes into consideration the atmosphere and objects in the room that are stimulating the senses. For neurodivergent students (autism, ADHD, dyslexia, to name three), sleep deprived, kids impacted by trauma, anxious kids and stressed staff members, creating a sensory friendly environment in the classroom is of benefit to all.

Here are my five top tips to consider for a sensory friendly environment:

  1. Colours & displays: bright colours immediately flood the senses in a stimulating way. This is OK, but try & keep the stimulating colours together (red, yellow, brown, orange), with an awareness of calming colours (black, white, purple, blue, green) in other areas of the room. Aim to have at least one space with a calm feel, students can then focus on this space when they need to regulate

  2. Model mindfulness & self-regulation (calming the nervous system & regulating sensory input) throughout the day. Let your students see you using techniques to calm yourself and focus. Mindfulness should not be a stand alone lesson you teach once a week. It's a tool that can be demonstrated and used multiple times during the day. Taking just a few seconds, you can instantly change the mood in your room by initiating self regulation and talking about how your body feels. From belly breathing to movement breaks, these tools can be used in the primary & secondary classrooms.

  3. Lighting: this can be as simple as switching off the lights. Natural light is preferred by many students, particularly in secondary schools. Some autistic children wear baseball caps indoors to help with managing lighting. Where possible, allow these students to keep their caps on. For some of them, it might even be in their individual learning plan.

  4. Noise levels: teachers play a vital role in controlling student noise levels. Speaking clearly and calmly sets the tone. Be aware that noise is a trigger for sensory over-stimulation and allow accomodations for headphones and breaks outside the room.

  5. Sensory space: this is easier in the primary setting, but in secondary schools this space might be in another classroom or the library. Allow fidgets, and ideally have an area that's quiet and away from the other students. If an autistic student communicates that they need time out, they need time out.

Setting up a sensory friendly room doesn't have to be hard or expensive. It just needs your awareness and consideration of how the environment is impacting your class memebers. It's also a great excuse to go shopping for amazing additions to your room or school, like these foam pods (pictured KMart $149).Always remember, that an autistic student who is experiencing sensory overload is not learning so first and foremost we need to support regulation. We can't always tell when overload is occurring, so best practice is to have the environment right from the start.

I'd love to hear how you support the sensory needs of your class?

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