Innovate or Isolate

The sensory challenged learner needs innovative classroom solutions that are designed to increase empathy and inclusion.

Photo of Cindy Charles
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 Early childhood classrooms today  are seeing a growing number of students with a variety of sensory processing disorders. Students with autism often lack social and communication skills to interact effectively and to express compassion, empathy and other emotions as expected.  The result is often increased isolation.   Teachers and students may need additional resources to help struggling learners be successful in the regular education classroom or these students will have a difficult time creating positive relationships and participating in the mainstream group. If we re-design the early childhood classroom around problem solving the typical challenges for students with sensory processing difficulties and  embed social stories, social skill lessons and visual modeling into the daily routine,  could we teach empathy through controlled experiences and create a greater sense of inclusion and understanding? What other ideas do you have for innovative classroom design to encourage inclusion and empathy for the struggling student?

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Photo of Jeaneen Tucker

I believe part of the empathy "training" includes early exposure for kids to the differences in the sounds/textures, etc that may be off-putting to some children....Children can be so intuitive, often if we just allow them to work together to problem solve empathy often rises to the surface.
When the use of a Sensory Lab is introduced to ALL students it becomes a part of the norm....not just used for students that have specific sensory issues. The activities can be useful for all students to improve core strength & balance and empathy is increased for those who may struggle more with these skills as they all "practice" . We see it in action at RTE, and it is remarkable!!

Photo of Cindy Charles

Erin,
My thoughts were that if the classroom design supports the sensitive sensory learner better, then the teacher can enjoy and appreciate the student to a greater degree and have the opportunity for a greater connection and thus greater empathy. In my experience these students are very difficult to manage in a larger classroom environment and the relationship becomes exhausting and at time straining which lessons the opportunity for connection and usually leads to the student sitting outside of the group activities isolated and doing things that calm, quiet or focus him or her. A calmer more engaged student has more opportunity to engage with classmates as well. I also thought that if every student has a visual schedule or "personal space ship" then the student with sensory processing difficulties stands out less which is less isolating. ? What are your thoughts?

Photo of Erin Quinn

How do you think we, as teachers, might be able to empathize more with students with sensory processing difficulties? How do you think other students might be able to empathize with these students?