Students working at a desk, with one holding a ball

Meet students' sensory needs

Middle years
0

Resources are provided with this practice

Yes

Summary

Students on the autism spectrum often have specific sensory needs that, when unmet, can lead to inattentiveness, meltdowns, and inappropriate behaviour. 

Making adjustments to accommodate these needs reduces the need for behaviour management and helps students to engage, attend, focus, and self-regulate during class. Adjustments can also significantly benefit all students by creating a more comfortable environment.

This practice will help students to

increase classroom attendance

be calm

focus

engage

This practice will help teachers to

stay calm

maximise teachable moments

How the practice works

Apply this practice with your students

The tabs below provide information to support your implementation of this practice. The sequence aligns with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership's High-Quality Professional Learning Cycle. You can find out more about high quality professional learning in the Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders.

A. Plan

Observing student behaviour

Students on the autism spectrum might have sensory needs relating to hearing, seeing, feeling (touch, temperature, body awareness) or smelling. Students can be: 

  • hypersensitive – they experience sensory input more than the average person, e.g. they may perceive noises more loudly than you do
  • hyposensitive – they are less responsive to particular sensations and need more of that sensory stimulus to recognise the sensation and/or feel comfortable.

Common sensory differences in students on the spectrum include:

  • aversion to noise, bright lighting, or physical touch and crowding
  • sensory-seeking behaviours including fidgeting and rocking on a chair.

When observing student behaviour, learning, or classroom performance, consider whether some students may benefit from sensory support.

Consulting with students, families, and specialists

Sensory needs vary from person to person. Consulting with students, parents/carers, and specialists such as therapists will help you to:

  • identify appropriate sensory supports
  • gain advice on a range of adjustments and supports.

It works better if the teacher:

  • asks for input from the student, parents/carers, and specialists around the student’s sensory supports.

It doesn't work if:

  • the teacher assumes what sensory support might be useful for the student without consultation
  • the teacher removes sensory supports to punish the student.

Materials informing this practice

Sensory needs: Practice brief

B. Set goals

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C. Apply the practice

Potential adjustments

 

1. Adjust the seating plan of the classroom and seat the student:

  • under a bank of lighting that is turned off
  • at the end of a row where they won’t be touched
  • on the side of the room furthest from the hallway.

2. Consider:

  • using a filter for the lights
  • dimming the lights or removing some of the fluorescent tubes
  • offering a variety of seating options.

3. Allow students to:

  • take sensory or movement breaks where they can remove themselves from the classroom if they are overloaded
  • wear headphones if they need to minimise noise 
  • use fidget objects
  • chew gum to satisfy the need for oral sensory input
  • sit on fit balls instead of chairs
  • listen to soft background music.

4. Do not insist on eye contact when talking to the student – they may be able to process auditory information and express speech better if they don’t have the additional task of focusing on eye contact at the same time.

D. Reflect and refine

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Reflect on your student goals

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Reflect on your teacher goals

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E. Share

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Congratulations

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Your student goals and reflections

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Your teacher goals and reflections

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This practice is from the core research project

Discussion

Keely

Anyone on the spectrum may have sensory processing needs that continue throughout their life. The evidence that the research team have drawn was specifically with regards to meeting the needs of students in the middle years. However, many older students and adults on the spectrum will tell you about sensory information that they find overwhelming and can be the best source of ways to support them.

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