Who has Sensory Needs?
This is the second blog post in a series of four on the topic of ‘sensory needs’. For more explanation on what sensory needs are, see our previous post.
Who has sensory needs? Well, in the broadest sense of the term, everyone does!
This does not mean we should dismiss those whose sensory differences require extra support. Diagnoses such as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), among others (Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Fragile X Syndrome, etc.), are frequently accompanied by sensory challenges. But what about those without a diagnosis?
Sensory differences vary greatly between individuals, in nature and severity. It is simply wrong to assume that we can segregate children into one of two categories: those with sensory needs, and those without. There will always be children whose neurological challenges are significant enough to disrupt their education, yet not enough to warrant a diagnosis.
In addition, there are children who are misdiagnosed with the wrong condition, or who have a condition that is never picked up on. A common example of this would be girls with ASD, who frequently fly under the radar because of better masking skills (this can, of course, happen with boys too!)
The reality is that many children will never access support for their struggles, because of subtler, and/or unidentified issues.
At Sens8tional, we see sensory differences as existing on a spectrum. As Carol Stock Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child, has described it:
“On a bell-shaped curve of humanity, some people have a poorly integrated neurological system, some have an excellent one, and the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle”.
For most of us, atypical processing affects us only mildly, only occasionally. For others, the impact is moderate, or more severe. Because of this, all children could benefit from support at some point.
Take an example like Harry, a child with some mild auditory processing difficulties. He finds it difficult to block out background noise in order to listen to his teacher’s instructions, and struggles to hear what other children are saying during group tasks. Because of this, he is easily distractible, and perceived as “scatter-brained”. Harry is unlikely to ever be assessed for auditory processing disorder, even though his audition affects his ability to do his work in class.
With the right support, and with a more sensory-friendly environment, (closed doors to block out noise from outside/next door, and consideration of other distractions such as noisy fans and equipment), Harry would be much more able to flourish in school.
Some children may also be able to mask or hide their struggles all day while they are at school. They may do this by staying very quiet and doing everything they are told, thereby avoiding drawing attention to themselves, or they might play the class clown, laughing and goofing around to deflect attention from their troubles completing schoolwork.
Such masking can contribute to sensory issues being missed. This is usually followed by a breakdown, or an outburst of emotion when they get home. In these cases, it is the family that bears the brunt of the child’s frustration, while their schoolteachers remain unaware of the scale of the problem. (This home/school divide can also be the other way round for some children, where parents are perplexed by reports of behavioural issues at school).
We know that challenging behaviours are most often an indicator of internal struggles, and that behind the mask there is a child who is struggling to cope. Diagnosis or no diagnosis, we want to focus more on pinpointing specific processing difficulties, so that we can support children most effectively.
Milder issues, unidentified issues, or children under stress would also benefit from our whole-school approach to supporting sensory needs. More on this in a future blog post!
Ultimately, we want to help establish an environment and a support system that minimises the struggles of these missed children. Our work is just as much for children with significant sensory dysfunction, as those with no identified special needs, who just need a little bit of extra support in stressful or challenging times.
Remember, we all have our own ways of regulating our mood throughout the day (as we saw in our previous blog), and we all have the need for certain input at different times — in times of stress, or low motivation, for instance. This is just as true of children as it is for adults.
Our approach ensures that all children, including those who might ordinarily fly under the radar, have the opportunity to receive support.