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Backpack Awareness: Is Your Child’s Backpack Too Heavy?

While sensory kids can benefit from wearing a heavy backpack because of the deep pressure input (also known as proprioceptive input) it provides, and certainly proprioceptive input needs to be part of a sensory diet at school, a too-heavy backpack is a problem. Because our kids often have organizational issues, they can end up overloading their backpacks with items they don’t need, causing muscle strain. AOTA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, offers these tips about backpacks for parents and students. The basic rule is that the backpack or messenger bag should be no more than 15 percent of body weight. Check to see how the bag hangs and whether the straps are padded and thick enough to distribute the weight more evenly. Backpacks should not be worn over one shoulder. Keep in mind that a rolling backpack may be your best option.

Because papers can pile up quickly, and because your child can learn from past work, make a regular habit of going through your child’s backpack with him or her. Decide which old papers will be kept and for how long. Consider filing them at home or in Resource Room if papers need to be retrieved for studying later on in the semester. Pay attention to whether any assignments teachers give involved going back to find older documents. You may want to have important homework documents transferred into digital form (such as a PDF, or portable document file) so they can be accessed later on. Keep copies of syllabuses that are handed out the first day of school in a safe place at home. Talk to your child’s teachers and/or special education teachers about which types of documents must be kept at home, in folders, or at school. It is easier to prevent overloading the backpack when your student knows what papers can be safely filed.

Also, check with your middle school or high school child to determine whether using a locker will help or hinder him or her in staying organized. For many sensory kids, keeping everything together in one place–a backpack–is far easier than working with a locker. This is especially true if they have to master using a combination lock, which can be tricky for kids with dyspraxia (which kids with sensory issues often have in addition to their SPD). If school policy forbids carrying a backpack with them from class to class, talk to your school’s special education director about a 504 plan that would allow an exception for your child.

You can learn more about 504 plans and school accommodations and strategies for kids who have sensory issues in the award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Issues.

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