Technology Tips for Kids with Sensory Issues at School
What happens when your child has sensory processing issues and struggles with organizational issues at schools?
Are you afraid he will lose school-issued equipment or paperwork (such as worksheets and permission slips)?
Does she hate reading physical books, or have difficulty listening to audiobooks?
Welcome to the world of parenting a child with sensory issues whose organizational, visual, and auditory demands at school can frustrate everyone.
Fortunately, I have some tips.
Talk with your child about what organizational systems will work for YOUR child. Your child is unique. So is her sensory profile. Have her tell you what she thinks will help her to succeed at school. Does she need notifications reminding her to write down class assignments before switching to another classroom? Does she need a paper planner and a check in at Resource Room daily to be sure she knows all her assignments? Does she need a digital backup of all paperwork kept stored on the "cloud" and accessible at school and home? If she doesn't know what organizational systems will work for her, experiment together and keep checking in to see how the system is working.
Make school about learning, not about meeting unrealistic expectations about organization and information processing. Your child has many years of school to develop academic and study skills, learn valuable information, develop socially and emotionally, and figure out how he learns best and what systems work best for him. Overwhelming him with unrealistic expectations and expecting rewards and punishments to magically get him to remember where he stashed that math homework will just make you and your child crazy. Push back against unrealistic demands so you can focus on skill building and learning. If your child has an IEP, get an accommodation for late work so that your child's grades aren't affected by his misplacing things. If a paper or book goes missing, figure out together where your child's system failed. Reward him for trying to do better. Don't punish him for being imperfect.
Consider whether all-in-one-place might be the way to go. Your child might need to keep everything in one big binder within one backpack. Lockers, especially multiple ones (gym, hallway), might not work for your child.
Set up regular check-ins. Have your child check in regularly with a teacher who can help her stay organized. The check-ins might take place at the beginning of the day and the end or during Resource Room period. Check in with your child on schoolwork yourself at least once a week if you can. You might set aside time on the weekend to go through their backpack with them. Saturday morning is better than Sunday night—not a good time to find a note from the teacher about a diorama that is due on Monday morning!
Make organization time together enjoyable. Lighten up, employ your sense of humor, listen to your child's ideas, play some music your child likes while you go through the backpack together—and praise your child for working with you to create a system that keeps her organized. Our kids tend to be organizationally challenged and may resist spending so much time working on systems that keep them from misplacing valuable information they need to keep up at school.
Have backups of important items. Arrange to have a textbook at school and one at home (which is easier to do if the textbook is online). If your child is required to hand in a written paper, you might scan it and keep it as a digital file at home in case it gets lost.
Explain to your child that incompatibility between computers, software, and apps happens. There will come a time when you can't open a document the teacher stored online, an app or software doesn't work properly, and tempers will start to rise. Treat these moments as teachable ones and keep the focus on the learning. Who knew that your child's school-issued laptop needs an update to access crucial information? Apparently, the lesson today is not earth science but problem solving and creativity! If your child is anxious and frustrated, take the time out to do some calming activities before putting on your "thinking caps" and coming up with ways to fix the problem. Life is short. Technology can be annoying. Forget about that 7th-grade science assignment grade. This too shall pass, and there's learning to be done. After a frustrating homework session involving technical difficulties, praise your child for using self-calming techniques and problem-solving skills.
Pay attention to what any particular screen looks like and what the audio function sounds like. Your child may have a strong preference for a screen with a certain font type and size, for reading in a certain type of light, or having a certain type of contrast (such as white type on black). It might be easier for him to read at length on a low-glare eReader with an adjustable screen or on a desktop, laptop, or phone where he can make visual and auditory adjustments. Text-to-speech might be great for your child or the robotic voice might be distressing and frustrating for her to listen to and make out. Try out various options and see what works for your unique child. Ask her teachers if they have ideas, too. An audio book read by a human (not robotic) voice might be available, for example. One type of technology or software might work great for other kids but not for yours.
Want more great tips and strategies to help your child with sensory issues thrive at school, at home, and away? But a copy of the newly revised, award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske.