Students working at a desk, with one holding a ball

Meet students' sensory needs

teaching practice
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For student year

Middle years

Helps students to

  • focus
  • engage in tasks
  • Helps teachers to

  • make adjustments
  • identify sensory needs
  • Summary

    Some students, including those on the autism spectrum, may 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.

    How the practice works

    Watch this video to learn more about sensory needs.

    Duration: 2:46

    Preparing to teach

    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.


    Consult 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.

    In the classroom

    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.

    Practice toolkit

    Practice implementation planner template

    We know that in the busyness of teaching it is not always easy to keep track of what is working and what is not. So, we have created this template for you to record and reflect on what you are doing to help you create a more inclusive classroom. The implementation planner contains:

    • Guidance around goal setting
    • Reflection section (What worked, didn’t work and what to change and next steps.)
    • Prompting questions

    Implementation planner template

    Implementation planner with examples

    Set your professional learning goal for:

    Meet students' sensory needs
    You can set and save your goal for inclusive practices using inclusionED. Saved goals will appear in your profile. Here you can access, refine and review your goal easily.

    Benefits of goal setting

    Setting, working towards, and reflecting on goals helps you grow professionally and improve your practice. You can access AITSL learning resources for teachers to learn more about:
    How to set goals
    The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership recommends using the SMART matrix to frame your goal setting.

    SMART goals refers to goals that are:
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Relevant
    • Time-phased
    Read more about Improving teaching practices.

    Resources

    Sensory needs: Practice brief

    Related Practices

    This practice is from the core research project

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