Understanding the four types of sensory processing patterns can help educators at all levels.

If you’re pursuing or engaged in a career as an educator, it’s important to consider various perspectives, stages, and degrees of child development—and equip yourself with strategies that allow you to effectively reach each child at his or her own level.

You may already have an understanding of the importance of sensory processing, integration, and development in young learners. A child’s central nervous system provides them with the information they need for visual perception, motor planning, and body awareness. It also serves as an essential building block in academic learning, emotional security, and social confidence.

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When a child takes in information through their senses, it’s known as sensory processing. How they use and respond to this information—examples of which include lights, sounds, textures, and motions—is known as sensory integration. Each child processes and responds to these environmental stimuli differently, and as a result, can be overstimulated or understimulated.

The Four Sensory Processing Patterns and Classroom Strategies

Sensory Processing Pattern: LOW REGISTRATION

Does not actively seek out experiences to meet sensory needs

Common Characteristics

  • Shows little interest in surroundings.
  • Rarely participates, especially when there is a lot of activity.
  • Requires extra motivation.

Best Classroom Strategies

  • Encourage children to work in groups. They may need extra encouragement to socialize.
  • Have these children sit in the middle of the classroom, which offers more stimulation to help them focus.
  • Provide many activities and experiences that require movement. For example, have children leapfrog to the door or skip to the bathroom.


Sensory Processing Pattern: SENSORY SENSITIVITY

Does not actively change environment; reaction to overstimulation might not be immediate

Common Characteristics

  • Is easily startled by noises, visual stimulation, touch, and movement.
  • Protests about things like a tag on a shirt, trying new foods, or loud noises.
  • Is easily distracted by the environment, even minor changes.

Best Classroom Strategies

  • Maintain predictable routines and provide short breaks, such as stretching or going to the library to help prevent sensory overload.
  • Provide a quiet area for children to go when they feel overwhelmed and make sure an adult can supervise this area.
  • Place these children at the beginning or end of the line to maintain a predictable routine.


Sensory Processing Pattern: SENSATION SEEKING

Engages in behaviors to meet high neurological threshold

Common Characteristics

  • Fidgets a great deal.
  • Is active and excitable.
  • Seeks out sensory experiences: visual, auditory, tactile, and vestibular stimulation.

Best Classroom Strategies

  • Give children active jobs, such as taking notes to the office, erasing the board, and helping arrange desks.
  • Let children use a fiddle toy during activities that do not provide a lot of sensory input.
  • Have children sit in the back of the classroom to provide them with lots of stimulation and decrease the likelihood that they will distract their peers.


Sensory Processing Pattern: SENSATION AVOIDING

Engages in behaviors to avoid overstimulation due to low neurological threshold

Common Characteristics

  • Is very sensitive to stimuli.
  • Clings to routines; has difficulty with transitions and changes.
  • Has difficulty engaging in novel experiences.

Best Classroom Strategies

  • Maintain predictable routines and post an overview of the day’s schedule to let children know what to expect.
  • Give children time and space to recover when they feel overwhelmed.
  • If children work in groups, place these children with a small number of peers.
  • Keep the classroom as calm and organized as possible. Bright colors or lots of objects on the walls are distracting to these children.


It’s also important to understand these two elements of sensory processing in child development:

  • A child’s neurological threshold is the degree to which their nervous system reacts to different intensities of stimulation.
  • How a child chooses to deal with the environmental stimuli is known as their behavioral response strategy.

So, how does this all come together in the classroom? If you’ve earned or are considering earning a BS in Elementary Education, the program curriculum can help you understand these sensory differences—and help you implement best practices in your classroom. Reaching children who follow these patterns can make you a more effective educator, and better prepare your students for success beyond the classroom.

If you have a passion for the development of our youngest learners and want to foster their success, Walden University’s online education degree programs can provide you with the skills you need to succeed.

This article is based on material from an article by Stacy D. Thompson and Jill M. Raisor, Meeting the Sensory Needs of Young Children, in the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) magazine Young Child, May 2013, on the Internet at www.naeyc.org/yc/article/meeting_sensory_needs_of_young_children_thompson.

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