Understanding Preschoolers with Special Needs

SPD Child

A preschooler who overreacts when he gets paint or glue on his hands, or a preschooler who winces and covers her ears when the class plays rhythm instruments. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) may affect these preschoolers, causing their reactions to sensory input.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?

SPD is a neurological condition of the central nervous system that affects how a person takes in input from their senses (seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, or tasting). With SPD, the preschooler might be oversensitive by becoming easily overloaded with sensory input, or they might be under-sensitive, such as the child who does not realize he bumps into others or has a cut. The condition could affect only one of the senses, or in some preschoolers it involves more than one of the senses. SPD is not merely a behavior problem, but it can lead to behavior issues as the preschooler reacts through his behavior. Some preschoolers overreact, while others might withdraw.


Some examples of what SPD might look like:

  • Regular lighting that is too bright for a preschooler.

  • Extreme aversion to getting their hands messy, such as in using finger paints or play dough.

  • Overreacts to loud noises.

  • Gags at smells.

  • Does not want to be touched.

  • Extremely irritated by tags or seams in clothing.

  • Particularly sensitive to foods with certain textures.


What Can I Do for a Preschooler with SPD?

The preschool classroom presents challenges to preschoolers with SPD, because our classes are filled with sensory input. We want bright, cheerful classroom environments and activities that include learning through the senses. Preschool classes are sometimes busy and noisy places. If you have a preschooler who has difficulty with sensory input, there are some things you can do to make the preschooler more comfortable.

  • Talk with the parents to ask what they do at home when their preschooler becomes distressed. This is especially important if the preschooler reacts by running away or bolting from the class.

  • Pay attention to the child to notice if a particular time or type of activity is too challenging. Look for patterns of behavior.

  • Check your classroom environment for items that might trigger a reaction. Do the fluorescent lights flicker or buzz? Is there clutter on the walls?

  • Simplify the classroom. You may need to remove a piece of furniture, clear up wall space, or simplify a bulletin board display.

  • Provide a place in the room that is quiet and away from noisy activities. When a preschooler becomes overloaded, she can come to this area. This is not for punishment, but to regroup with a book or quiet activity.

  • An extra teacher may be needed for one-on-one interaction with a preschooler.

  • Provide consistency and structure to your schedule.

  • Plan more time for transitions, such as between activity time and Group Time.

  • Place your Group Time in a part of the room that is not near a distracting source of noise.

  • During Group Time, have the preschooler sit next to a teacher.

  • Consider accommodations, such as allowing a preschooler to wear earphones that reduce noise.

  • Give care and soothing when a preschooler is distressed.

  • Pray for the preschooler, and for God to guide you in making the classroom at church a loving place for this preschooler to thrive. [bullets end]

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