School is back in full swing, and that means homework time is here.  Children with sensory processing difficulties often struggle with homework for many different reasons.

The Sensory Seeker

A child who is a sensory seeker is under-responsive to sensory input.  He requires more intense input than his peers, therefore, sitting in at the kitchen table to write spelling words with a plain number 2 pencil feels quite bland.  He likely spends a majority of homework time changing position, fidgeting, playing with his pencil, or creating a variety of reasons to get up from the table.  Sensory seekers may benefit from increasing the intensity of the sensory input around them.  Keep in mind that a child who is seeking out one type of input, such as movement, may be overly sensitive to a different type of input, such as smell.  Ask your occupational therapist for help choosing sensory adaptations for your child.

The Passive Under-responder

This child looks very different than the sensory seeker described above.  The passive under-responder also needs more intense input than peers, but he does not take action to gain this input.  He may sit in a slumped position, have his thoughts wander off into space and complain of being fatigued.  By “turning up the volume” of the sensory properties of the environment and task, he may be able to better demonstrate his knowledge and understanding of the homework concepts.  Again, it is common for a child to be under-responsive in one area and over-responsive, or sensitive in another area, so speak with your child’s occupational therapist for appropriate ideas for your child.

An important rule of thumb is that any sensory adaptation should help your child better engage with the homework task, not distract from it.  If a fidget toy becomes something to throw at a sibling or if a yoga ball to sit on becomes a way to try out new gymnastics moves, try a different sensory tool for that day.  Do not take it away as a punishment, but tell your child, “I don’t think this tool is helping you get your homework done. Let’s try something else.”

Homework Adaptations for the Sensory Seeker and the Passive Under-responder

  • scented crayons, markers or erasers
  • “scent inhalers” or a few drops of an essential oil such as lemon, mint, rosemary or orange
  • strong flavored hard candy or gum
  • chewable fidget toys, pencil toppers or jewelry
  • a “silly straw” to drink from
  • wiggle pen (this may not be appropriate for school assignments to be handed into the teacher, but it may be useful when practicing spelling words)
  • exercise band tied around the front legs of the chair for your child to push with his feet
  • a small yoga ball to sit on – your child’s feet should to be able to reach the floor with bent knees
  • a partially inflated beach ball to sit on as a wiggle cushion
  • complete homework assignments standing up at a counter or table
  • adhesive Velcro to attach to the underside of the desk or table
  • koosh ball or other fidget
  • use a timer set for 10-15 minutes of working time and allow your child to take a movement break for 2-3 minutes
  • white noise such as a fan or quiet classical music to block out neighborhood sounds
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